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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by 

In the Clerk** Office of the District Court of the District of Columbia. 


ALTHOUGH Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person, remains 
yet comparativ :ly an unknown, unregarded figure upon tiie 
vast and crowded canvas of our age, I feel tor reasons 
attempted to be set forth in the following pages that I 
am in some sort called upon to jot down, while they are 

vivid upon me, my observations of him and his writings. 
.. * 

And I wish to give, without delay, a fair hint of the attitude 

my Notes hold toward their subject, and of the premises 
they assume and start from. 

In History, at wide intervals, in different fields of action, 

there come (it is a thrice-told tale,) special developments 

of individualities, and of that something we suggest by the 

word Genius individuals whom their own days little sus- 

V pect, and never realize, but who, it turns out, mark and 


make new eras, plant the standard again ahead, and in one 

man personify vast races or sweeping revolutions. I con- 

^ sider Walt Whitman such an individual. I consider that 

x America is illustrated in him ; and that Democracy, as now 


launched forth upon its many-vortexed experiment for 
good or evil, (and the end whereof no eye can foresee,) is 
embodied, and for the first time in Poetry grandly and fully 
uttered, in him. 

My Notes come from personal contact, and doubtless 
from thoughts brought under that influence. The literary 
hints in them are experimental, and will show the student 
of Nature more than the student of books. 

I confess I shelter much that I have written, within the 
conviction that almost any statement, touched from life, of 
a man already the subject of peculiar interest to choice 
circles both in this country and -in Europe, and destined to 
a general renown unlike any other the renown of personal 
endearment will prove welcome. 

And so I give them forth crude and ill-put as doubt- 
less they will appear to the better judges yet hoping that 
they too may serve. 

Nott ti Second Edition. The following essay, as far at page 1 08, / 
having been issued in 1867, was based of course on the editions of j 
LEAVES or GRASS anterior to that time, of 1855, 57, 60, and especially 
of 1866-7. The last-named and fourth, though mentioned on page 22 
following as " the completed edition," has now been supvrceded by a 
later and fuller one, the fifth, (see page 109 following}) the " excep 
tion " mentioned on page 22, and the " part still lacking," alluded toon 
page 71 of the present work, having necessitated, as appears, not only an 
important addition of new LEAVES, but a re-arrangement of the old ones. 

The whole Volume being, in some respects, best understood when 
viewed as a series of growths, or strata, rising or starting out from a set 
tled foundation or centre, and expanding in successive accumulations, I 
have thought it allowable to let my Notes, even pages 22 and 23, remain 
as they were originally jotted down, notwithstanding that 1 might alter 
certain passages if written over again now, and that a few lines are 
rendered superfluous ; but as they stand they in some sort represent the 
changes and stages alluded to, especially those signified by the edition of 
1866-7. The Supplementary Notes commencing page 109 present what 
I have to say of the book of 1871-2. 

It will be borne in mind that the present Notes were not designed 
merely for literary criticism of Walt Whitman s poems. While these 
poems certainly present difficult problems, and need study and time to 
their appreciation, I believe that from what has already been written 
concerning them, the determined investigator, amid many contradictor)* 
speculations and reviews, will be able to glean the materials of the 
truth. [See LEAVES or GRASS IMPRINTS, 64 pages, 16 mo. Boston, 
Thayer & Eldridge, 1860; THE GOOD GRAY POET, A Vindication, by 
W. D. O Connor, "46 pages, 8vo. New York, Bunce & Huntington j 
A ffoman s Estimate of Walt Jfkitman, THE RADICAL, May, 1870, / 
Boston.] But I desire, also, to put on record, out of my own observation?, 
continued since the opening of the war down to the present hour, and 
from the point of view of those who have known him best from child 
hood, and especially during these current years, an outline of the veritable 
form, manners, and doings of the man, and of his life, as he actually 
lives it to-day. There will come a time when these things will be in 
valuable. . J. B., June, 1871. 

Jggy The leader of the LEAVES, in their permanent form of 1871-2, 
will take notice that several of the pieces criticized in the present Notes, 
from pages aa to 64, and 91 to 105, are not now to be found in the 
localities or connections specified, but in others. The names of two or 
three pieces are also changed. 





THE EARLIER ISSUE* OR EDITION! ........ ... ................. 15 

REVIEW or THE COMPLETED POEM ......................... .. 21 

STANDARD or THE NATURAL UNIVERSAL ...................... 37 

BEAUTY ........................................ , ................... 50 

PERSONALITY, ETC ...................... . ......................... 57 

FURTHER PRESENTATION* AND POINTS- .................... . 65 


PERSONAL SKETCH ............................................. 77 

DRUM-TAPS ...................... .................................... 97 




FORMERLY, during the period termed elastic, when literature was gov 
erned by recognized rules, he was considered the best poet who had com 
posed the most perfect work, the most beautiful poem, the most intelli 
gible, the most agreeable to read, the most complete in every respect, 
the rEneid, the Gerusalemme, a fine tragedy. 

To-day, something else is wanted. For us, the greatest poet is he who 
in his works most stimulates the reader s imagination and reflection, who 
excites him the most himself to poetize. The greatest poet is not he who 
has done the best ; it is he who suggests the most ; he, not all of whose 
meaning is at first obvious, and who leaves you much to desire, to explain, 
to study, much to complete in your turn. [SAINTE-BEUVE. Nouvtaux 
Lundli. (New Mondays.) Article on " The Last Five Montkt of the 
Life of Racine." Volume X. Parit edition, 1868.] 




PIKIIAPS I can open my subject no hotter than by 
telling where and how it hej;an with me, Horn ami raised 
near the head water* of the Delaware, in New York, the 
wortJ of my praciUal experience wan confined to that 
I, -.ili hy tuit rather will ami bleak region, till 1 had become 
n well-j .rown country youth, cuHou* ubout booki fond 
even then of the Kmcrnonian CH*ay* and poems and 
u l of that ilk { bur my lite mainly occupied In farm work 
in the .summer, and with u little study, oftset by much 
hunting ttnd trapping wi!d animals, in winter. 

From child I was familiar with the homely facts of the 
barn, and of cattle and hor-e.< ; the au^ar-making in the 
maple u ood in early >prinj: j the work of the corn-field, 
hay-field, potato-Held ; the delicious fall months, with their 
pigeon and Mjuirrel ihootitlgft| tliroliin^ of buckwhent, 
gathering of apples, and burning of fallows; in short, every- 
thing that smacked of, and led to, the open air and its exhil 
arations. I belonged, as I may say, to them ; and my 
substance and taste, as they grew, assimilated them as truly 
as my body did its food. I loved a few books much ; but 


I loved Nature, in all those material examples and subtle 
expressions, with a love passing all the books of the world. 
Appropriately enough, I at this time, 1861, first made 
the acquaintance of LEAVES OF GRASS, in the woods. Vis- 
iting a friend in the eastern part of the Swte, I recall that 
as we went out on a nutting excursion he carried with him 
this singular-looking book, from which he read to me as we 
paused in our tramp. I shall never forget the strange 
delight I had from the following passage, as we sat there 
on the sunlit border of an autumn forest : 

" I He abstracted, and hear beautiful tales of things, and the reasons of 

things ; 
They are so beautiful, I nudge myself to listen. 

I cannot say to any person what I hear I cannot say it to myself it 
is very wonderful. 

It is no imall matter, this round and delicious globe, moving to exactly 
in its orbit forever and ever, without one jolt, or the untruth 
of a tingle second j 

I do not think it was made in six days, nor in ten thousand yean, nor 
ten billions of years, 

Nor plann d and built one thing after another, as an architect plans and 
builds a house." 

I shortly after procured the volume- the Boston edition 
of 1 860. I read it attentively, and, as I supposed then, 
understood it. At any rate I understood it thus far, that, 
as a written poem, or whatever it was, it produced the 
impression upon me in my moral consciousness that actual 
Nature did in her material forms and shows. This sort of 
impression no book had ever before made upon me. I had 
enjoyed the good of other books greatly, but it had never 
occurred to me to recognize them as in any way equal to a 


fine sunrise morning, or a solitary and dim old hemlock 
forest, or as containing qualities at all akin to these. 

Of course, I became very curious about Walt Whitman 
himself, but found little satisfaction in the magazine and 
newspaper notices current at that time, and more or less 
current down to this day. According to those veracious 
paragraphs, the man was a mixture of the belligerent, the 
libidinous, and the buffoon. The prevailing authorities 
made him a Broadway stage-driver, fearfully and wonder 
fully dressed, who occasionally dismounted from the box 
and spent a certain time in cooking up strange messes, olla 
podridas, of the English language, which he mixed together 
and printed. 

However, I found articles of another sort about Whitman 
in the old Nfto Tcrk Saturday Press 9 which I received every 
week. That paper spoke warmly and persistently in his 
behalf. But the slurs and abusive tirades of the press, of 
all grades, largely preponderated. 

As to the book itself, I continued to read it, taking it 
with me Sundays away off on the hills. I soon began to 
notice that it held perpetual strata, or backgrounds, of 
meanings, and pictorial and panoramic effects. 1 thought I 
understood any certain piece, at a certain time ; but a week 
or two afterward, reading it again, I would invariably find 
new, and sometimes far wider and superior meanings. 
This process, thus began, has continued now for more than 
five years. Like the face of the sky, and the spread of the 
landscape, LEAVES OF GRASS, though the same, has the 
character qf always, at any view, presenting different com 
binations from any previous view. 

Some of the effects produced in and upon me at that 


period are interwoven in the following Notes ; but the great 
charm which the book had to me, as a young man, full of 
inquiry, full of emotion full, it may be, of doubt desiring 
to come in contact with people and with truth as well as 
the moral service it rendered me arc beyond statement. 
It was a new kind of help, not in the ordinary way of 
knowledge, but in a way far more rare and precious. It 
strengthened my faith, and very curiously wrought upon and 
contributed to my tense of self, my personality. 

In the fall of 1863 I left New York, and, desirous of 
being nearer the war, and perhaps taking a hand in it, wan 
dered southward as far as Washington. I did not become 
a soldier, however ; circumstances determined otherwise, 
and I >cttle.l down as a resident of the national capital, and 
10 have since remained. 

Mr. Whitman was at Washington in 1862 and 1863, 
engaged in the army hospitals. I easily found him out, as 
1 he had become well known around the city, and soon made 
his acquaintance. I had met him once or twice without 
our interviews amounting to much, as I found Mm, although 
cheerful and friendly, not at all inclined to talk on any such 
subjects as poetry or metaphysics; when on one of my 
Sunday afternoon rambles in the wood*, two or three miles 
from Washington, I plumply encountered him traveling 
along a foot-path between the trees, with a well-stuffed 
haversack slung over his shoulder, and the pockets of his 
overcoat also tilled. He was on his way to some army 
hospital barracks in the vicinity, and, with his permission, 
I accompanied him. 


In an ensuing section I shall give a sketch of his hospital 
career. Yet a written sketch is a poor, weak thing, in such 
a matter. The actual scene, as I saw it, of this man moving 
among the maimed, the pale, the low-spirited, the ncar-to- 
death, wi;h all the incidents and the interchanges between 
him and those suffering ones, often young almost to child 
hood, can hardly be pictured by any pen, however 
expert. His magnetism was incredible ar.d exhaustlcss. 
It is no figure of speech, but a tact deeper than speech. 
The lustreless eye brightened up at his approach ; his 
commonplace words invigorated ; a bracing air seemed to 
fill the ward, and neutralize the bad smells. I beheld, in 
practical force, something like that fervid incantation of one 
of his own poems : 

"To any one dying thither I spcc.1, and twist the knob of the door; 
Turn the bed-clothes toward the toot of the bed j 
Let the phytKun and the priest go home. 

I fccuc the descending nun, and raiic him with rcsijtlcs? will. 

de-paircr, here is my neck; 

Dy God ! You shall not go down ! Hang your whole weight upon me. 

1 dilate you with tremendous breath I buoy you upj 
Every room of the houie do I till with an arm d force, 
Lovers of me, bailkrs of graves." 

Dating from this encounter, I had afterward opportunities 
of seeing Whitman a good deal, and of knowing much 
about him, both in the general and in the minute. His 
book and himself now fused in my mind, and, as it were, 
remained one. Each aided my understanding of the other; 
much light was cast upon the book by his character, con 
versation, and ways, and from the new and mysterious 


bodily quality of him, which it is impossible to describe, 
but which none who come into his presence can escape, 
and which is, perhaps, the analogue to the intuitive quility 
of his intellect. 

Of my attempt, in the latter part of these Notes, to give 
an outline of the poet s personal history, I will say here, 
that, man as he is, with just the same points and qualities 
as the rest of us when that is distinctly admitted the 
deepest meaning of Thoreau s verdict, "After all, he sug 
gests something a little more than human," comes to my 
apprehension as the final key and result. It probably un 
derlies my biographic sketch of his life. 

As will be seen, I have extracted largely from his writings, 
jmd have sought mostly to explain him from his own letter 
and spirit. 





IN the summer of 1855 a thin quarto volume of a hun 
dred pages, poorly printed, and inscribed in great letters on 
the title-page, LEAVES OF GRASS, appeared from the press 
of a small job-office in the city of Brooklyn, New York. 

It had no author s name, but there was a frontispiece, a 
choice and artistic steel engraving, portraying a man some 
where from thirty to thirty-five years of age, quite neglige, 
no coat or vest, shirt open at the neck, one hand in his 
trowscrs pocket, and the other resting on his hip ; face 
bearded, and a felt hat pushed back slightly from the fore 
head ; a mild yet firm enough pair or eyes, and a general 
expression, not only about the countenance, but equally in 
the whole figure, that held you looking long at the picture, 
under a feeling you rould hardly account for. 

This new arrival in literature, which, at a casual exam 
ination, puzzled all known classifications of prose or poetry, 
had no publisher, and was born very noiselessly and lazily. 
Some three-score copies were deposited for sale in a book 
store in Brooklyn, and as many more in another store in 
New York. Weeks elapsed, and not a copy was sold. 


Presently there came requests from lx>th the bookstores that 
the thin quarto should be forthwith removed. 

The copies found refuge in a well-known phrenological 
publishing establishment on Broaiway, whose proprietors 
advertised it, and sent specimen copies to the journals, and 
to some distinguished persons. The journals remained 
silent, and of the copies sent to the distinguished persons 
several were tcturncd with insulting notes. The only re- 
ception heard of, was such, for instance, as the use of the 
volume by the attaches of a leading daily paper in New 
York collected in a swarm Saturday afternoon, waiting to 
be paid off as a butt and burlesque, whose perusal aloud by 
one of the party, the others lounging or standing around, 
was equivalent to peals upon peals of ironical laughter from 
the whole assemblage. 

A small but important occurrence seems now to have 
turned the tide. A letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, 
brief, but containing a magnificent culogium of the book, 
suddenly appeared. A demand arose, and before many 
months all the copies of the thin quarto were sold. 

[I take occasion to say that Whitman, up to the time 

I he published the quarto edition here mentioned, had never 
read the Essays or Poems of Mr. Emerson at all. This is 
positively true. In the summer following that publication, 
he first became acquainted with the Essays, in this wise : 
He was frequently in the habit of going down to the sea 
shore at Coney Island, and spending the day bathing in the 
surf and rambling along the shore, or lounging on the sand ; 
and on one of these excursions he put a volume of Emerson 
into the little basket containing his dinner and his towel. 


There, for the first, he read " Nature," &c. Soon, on 
similar excursions, the two oilier volumes followed. Two 
years still elapsed, however, and after his second edition 
was issued, before he read Mr. E. s poems.] 


We must examine this first incarnation of LEAVES OP 
GRASS a little further before dismissing it. It had one fea 
ture that has been omitted from all subsequent editions, 
namely, a long prefatory essay or dissertation in prose form. 
A portion of this essay, or whatever it may be called, the 
author has since incorporated into his subsequent poems. 
The original, in prose, was devoted chiefly to a considera 
tion of the august character and mission of the poet, more 
especially of the poet fit for democratic America. 

He says the American bard is to be commensurate with 
the people, and his expression transcendent and nsw : 

* It is to be indirect, and not direct, or descriptive, or epic. Its quality 
goes through these to much more. Let the age and wars of other nations 
be chanted, and their eras and characters be illustrated, and that finish 
the verse. Not so the great j^alra of the Republic. Here the theme u 
creative, and has vista." 

The service the great bard renders to mankind is anal- 
agous to the service the eyesight renders the other senses ; 
and, following out the figure, he shows how the eyesight is 
above proof or explanation, as the poet is : 

"The other senses corroborate themselves, but this is removed from 
any proof but its own, and foreruns the identities of the spiritual world. 
A single glance of it mocks all the investigations of man, and all the 
instruments and books of the earth, and all reasoning. What is marvel 
ous? What U unlikely? What is impossible, or baseless, or vague? 


after you have once jtut opened the space of a peach-pit^ and given audi 
ence to far and near, and to the unser, ind had all things enter with 
electric swiftness, tofily and duly, without confusion or jostling or jam." 

**The poetic quality is not marshalled in thyme, or uniformity, or 
abstract addresses to things, nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, 
but is the life of these and much else, and is in the soul. . . - The 
rhythm and uniformity of perfect poems show the full growth of the 
metrical laws, and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or 
roses on a bush, and take shape as compact as the shapes of chestnuts and 
oranges and melons and pears, and shed the perfume impalpable to furm.** 

"The art of art, the glory of expression, and the sunshine of the light 
of letters, is simplicity. Nothing is Letter than simplicity nothing can 
make up for excess, or for the lack of dcfinitcncss." . u To 

speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the move 
ments of animals, and the unimpeachablencss of the senu.icnt of trees in 
the woods and grass by the roadside, is the flawless triumph of art." 

The following gives his idea of style : 

"The greatest poet has lest a marked style, and is more the channel of 
thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free dunncl 
of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddleoome, 1 will not 
have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the w.iy 
between me and the rest, like curtains. I will have nothing hang in my 
way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is. 
Let who may exalt or startle, or fascinate or soothe, 1 will have purposes 
as health or heat or snow has, and be as regardless of observation. What 
I experience or portray shall go from my composition without a shred of 
my composition." 

The body of this edition contained twelve poems, (if we 
must begin to call them so,) the leading one, since entitled 
Walt Whitman, the one To Working-Men, the pieces called 
To Get Betimes in Boston Town, Burial, Sleep- Closings, &c. ; 
but they had no names then attached to them. About a 


thousand copies were printed, which were sold in less than 
a year. As it was not stereotyped, this ended the thin 
quarto, or iir^t issue. 

At the present day, a curious person poring over the 
second-hand book-stalls in side places of northern cities, 
may ight upon a copy of this quarto, for which the stall- 
keeper will ask him, at least, treble its first price. 


Either in 1856 or early in 1857, LEAVFS OF GRA:-?, con 
siderably added to, again appeared in the form of a handy 
1 6m.) of 350 pages, published in New York. The most 
notable addition to this issue was the piece beginning A 
H uman wdits for Me. A storm had been muttering before, 
but at the publication of this piece it burst forth in fullest 
fury. Every epithet of rancor and opprobrium was show 
ered upon the book and author. The publishers of the 
second issue were frightened. They had stereotyped the 
work, and printed and bound a batch of a thousand copies. 
These they soon sold, remunerating expenses, and rhcn 
quietly asked to be excused from continuing the book any 

This second issue had at the end, under the head of 
Correspondence, two letters first, that of Mr. Emerson 
before mentioned, and second, a long letter from the new 
poet to the old one in response. This last epistle has 
much to say on the subject of what we call our literature, 
how we have imported it, its foreign and artificial elements, 
its unnatural traits, etc. The principal assumption is, that 
a real literature fo/ our nation must be the expression of its 
native spirit, and also, of its objective facts, its constitution 

and manners, the idiosyncracics of the land and the race, 
and even of the climate and geography. It .speaks much of 
the West, and dwells with fondness upon the land and 
people there. It has a page respecting women in politics, 
and in regard to the attainment of greater strength, develop, 
merit, ami their " rights" and boldly proclaims that the 
social and literary mawkishncss which tyranni/cs over us on 
themes relating to sex, must be thoroughly broken down 
and dohc away with, before women can advance to :ny 
CouaVuj with men in the practical fields of life. 


Some three to four years now elapse, and we find a young 
publishing house in Boston writing to Walt Whitman, and 
anxious to bring out LEAVES OF GRASS anew, and in better 
typographical form. This leads to the third or Boston 
edition of 1 860-61, a truly handsome book, in I2ino form, 
of 456 pages, and containing many additional pieces. The 
author went on to Boston, where he read the proofs, and 
remained some months, interested in the city and vicinity, 
and in the various objects of that part of New England. 
This visit to Boston occurred in the spring and early sum- 
mcr of 1860, and I have heard Whitman speak of it as one 
of the plcasantest reminiscences of his life. 

After a brief period of activity, however, the new issue, 
which seemed for the first time to have favorably launched 
LEAVES OP GRASS on the trade and market, by the hands of 
men who believed in it, and were determined to give it the 
best advantages, met with the misfortune of the failure of 
the publishes, in the business crash which preceded the 
Southern war. Of the book, in this, its third form, some 


four to five thousand copies were eventually sokl ; following 
which comes another blank space in its career. A vast 
absorbing event svallo\vs up all matter of writing or pub 
lishing poems, or the consideration of the same. Walt 
Whitman goes to the scene of \var, and during the ensuing 
years is occupied in new and sad avocations. 


In 1865 he prepares some seventy or eighty pages, to be 
called DRUM TAPS. Just as the last lines are being put in 
type occurs the murder of Abraham Lincoln. The poet 
keeps back what has been already printed, and some two or 
three months afterward, in his SEQUEL TO DRUM TAPS, adds 
a requiem for the dead President, and, with some other 
pieces, joined to the previous part, sends forth the whole in 
a little volume of a hundred pages. 

As I intend to give, by and by, a more elaborate notice 
of that little volume, I will but say here that DRUM TAPS 
is neither more nor less than a memorial or monograph of 
the dead soldiers of the war of the lost tens of thousands 
ha, tily buried in unknown pits of that part of the army, 
mainly young men, that went ardently forth in 1861, 2, 
and 3, from the farmers houses and city homes of the land, 
but never again returned. 




WB now come to the finished compilation and issue o! 
.these poems. The fourth edition takes the shape of a 
handy 1 2mo of about 480 pages, and is stamped on the 


ED N 1867. 

It includes all the pieces in former issues, together with 
DRUM TAPS, and finishes with a collection of poems, mostly 
r.ew, called SONGS BEFORE PARTING. It is this edition that I 
make use of in the following remarks and extracts. The 
poet avers that, perhaps with the exception mentioned in a 
future part of these Notes, his work is completed, for good 
or bad. - 

The book begins with the following, on a leaf by itself. 
It has the character of sentences graved on the pediment of 
a building, which you scan while you ascend the tteps to 
pass in : 


SMALL 11 the tkemc of the following Chant, yet the greatestnamely, 

ONE S-SELF that wondrous thing, a simple, separate person. 

That, for ti\e use of the New ff orld, I ting. 
jl/jn j physiology complete, from tcp to toe, I sing. Net physicgnomy alcr.c, 

nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse ; / say the Form complete ii 

worthier far. The female, equally with the male, I sing. 
Nor cease at the theme of Onc s-Sclf. I speak the word of the modem, the 

-word EN-MASSE. 
My Days I sing, and the Lands with interstice I knew of haplets war. 

friend, whoe er you are, at last arriving hither to commence, I feel through 
every leaf the pressure of your hand, which 1 return. And thus 
upon our journey linked together let us go." 


In the poem that leads, after this, he begins at Paumanok, 
(Long Island, his birthplace,") and with a few short and 
firm strokes opens his general subject. He holds the loftiest 
tone. No emperor so arrogant. The America of the 
future is to be his audience. As the long generations wind 
down the passes of time, he sees them " with faces turned 
sidewajrs or backwards toward me to listen." 

Then more simply he defines his own beginning: 

44 In the Year 80 of The States, 

My tongue, every atom of my blood, formM from this soil, thi* air, 
Born here of parents born here, from parents the same, and their parents 

the same, 
I, now thirty-iix years old, in perfect health, begin, 

Hoping to cease not till death. 


Creeds and schools in abeyance, 

(Retiring back a while, sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,) 
I harbor, for good or bad I permit to speak, at every hazard, 
Nature now without check, with original energy." 


He docs not forget the past. He pays obeisance to all 

"Dead poets, philosophers; priests, 
Martyrs, artists, inventors, governments long since, 
Language-chapers on other shores, 
Nations once powerful, now reduced, withdrawn, or desohte.** 

But he declares for the present day, and the New World, 
as his aim and purpose. 

He has a remarkable passage on Religion : 

" Each is not for its own sake ; 
I say the whole earth, and all the stare in the sky, are fur Religion*! 



I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough ; 
None has ever yet adored or worshVd half enough j 
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain 
the future ij." 

And again : 

44 My comrade! 
For you, to share with me, two greatnesses and a third one, 

inclusive and more resplendent, 
The greatness of Love and Democracy and the greatness of Religion. 

Melange nine own ! the unseen and the seen j 

Mysterious ocean where the streams empty ; 

Prophetic spirit of materials shifting and flickering around me ; 

Living beings, identities, now doubtless near us, in the air, that we 

know not of; 

Contact daily and hourly that will not release me ; 
These selecting these, in hints, demanded of me. 

Not he, with a daily kiss, onward from childhood kissing me, 
Has winded and twisted around me that which holds me to him, 
Any more than I am held to the heavens, to the spiritual world, 
And to the identities of the Gods, my lovers, faithful and true, 
After what they have done to^nc, suggesting themes.** 


With rapid flight he sweeps over all parts of the conti 
nent, and ends the piece with a sort of comprehensive 
hauling into the net of his poetry of every theme afforded 
!\v modern practical life, as absorbed in the book now to 

The next piece, Walt Wbltman^ the longest in the book, 
is a microcosm of the whole, and of the poet himself. It 
was written first in order of time, includes the strongest 
lights and shades, has the most grace, has a primal freshness 
as of Paradise itself, has the serenity of the clearest sky, and 
yet from time to time, and especially in some of the con 
cluding parts, abandons itself to a play of power almost 
unprecedented in authorship, and reminding one of some 
huge leviathan .sporting and darting and rolling in the 
measureless ocean. The piece, in its sections, is varied 
beyond .statement, yet all the parts and characters arc fused 
into a perfect coherence. Of many, one $ the youth, the 
lover, the traveler, the father, the priest, the philosopher, 
the participator in sea fight and land fight, the dreamy 
ecstatic, are all here, and others besides. Yet the character 
is one only, moving with astronomical volition through 
every mood and phase of experience. The poet migrates 
through all, yet remain himself. He exults like a well- 
grown joyous child ovor the facts of his own life, his cyc- 
Mt ht, his sense .of touch and of hearing, and all the delights 
and miracles he sees in the objects of the material world. 
Walt Whitman is, in truth, an epic of the senses, passions, 
attributes of the body and soul. It is especially to it that 
the iir? i two verses of the Inscription apply. It is full of 


animality, without doubt ; but 1 think it is fuller of aspira 
tion and even of mysticism. Toward the conclusion of the 
piece, the following : 

"If you would understand me, go to the heights or water-shore ; 
The nearest gnat is an explanation, and a drop or motion of waves a 

The maul, the oar, the hand-saw, second my words. 

No shutterM room*r school can commune with Yne, 
But roughs nd little children better than they. 

The young mechanic is closest to me he knows me well ; 

The woodman, that takes hu axe and jug with him, shall take me with 

him all day ; 
The farm boy, ploughing in the field, feels good at the pound of my 

voice } 

In vessels that sail, my words sail I go with fishermen and seamen, 
and love them. 

The soldier camp d, or upon the march, is mine ; 

On the night ere the pending battle, many seek me, and I do not fail 

On the solemn night (it may be their last,) those that know me, seek 


My face rubs to the hunter s face, when he lies down alone in his 


The driver, thinking of me, docs not mind the jolt of his wagon j 
The young mother and old mother comprehend me ; 
The girl and the wife rt the needle a moment, and forget where 

they arc ; 
They and all would resume what I have told them.** 

I can but repeat, without undertaking any analysis, that 
in this piece arc the germs of the entire collection, and 
pass on. 


. xi. 

A main point of the bold and over-arching philosophy 
of Walt Whitman is that man, and man s elements and life, 
can render the highest service only when accepted as an 
entirety, not in the spirit of carping criticism, but in the 
spirit in which they were created. 

But the prevailing moral tastes, like the intellectual, show 
themselves in the false interpretations that have been placed 
upon his illustrations of this theory, especially of the col 
lection of short poems called Children of Adam, in which 
the author celebrates his sex, and speaks in the interest of 
the amative part of the human physiology. 

A glance at this portion of his book suffices to show that 
its author has not imitated the licentious poets at all, but 
that his method is akin to the Biblical writers, who have 
treated these things with candor and purc-mindcdncss, im 
plying the sanctity of sex, and using it as a type in a higher 
and more spiritual language. Of the morbid, venereal, 
euphemistic, gentlemanly, club-house lust, which, under 
thin disguises, is in every novel and most of the poetry of 
our times, he has not the first word or thought not the 
faintest whisper. What he has, he has ; ami it is Adam, 
fresh, full, rose-colored, walking in the garden in primal 
health and warmth, and sweet as the dews : 

Ages and ages, returning at intervals, 
Und^stroy d, wandering immortal, 

Lusty, phallic, with the potent original loins, perfectly sweet, 
I, chanter of Adamic songs, 

Through the new garden, the West, the great cities calling, 
Dcliriate, thus prelude what is generated, offering these, offering myself, 
Bathing myself, bathing my wngi in Sex, 
Offspring of my loins.** 


The sexual acts and feelings, he chants mainly with 
reference to offspring, and the future perfection of the race, 
through a superior fatherhood and motherhood. His treat 
ment of woman is as far from levity as from coarseness. 
He sees her in her universal human relations as the " teeming 
mother of mothers," and recognizes that upon the health of 
her body, the development of her powers, and the normal 
exercise of her maternal functions, all the future of the race 
depends : 

"Be not ashamed, women your privilege enclose* the rett, and U the exit 

of the rest, 
You are the gate* of the body, and you are the gates of the soul. 

The female contains all qualities, and tempers them she is in her place, 

and moves with perfect balance; 

She is all things duly vcil d she is both passive and active; 
She ia to conceive daughter! as well as ions, and tons at well as daughter*. 

As I see my soul irflccted in nature ; 

As I see through .1 mist, one with inexpressible completeness and beauty, 

Sec the bent head, nd arms folded over the breast the female I ce." 

His allusions and instances to the amative act arc strong, 
but always perfectly healthy: 

* The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hanker* up and down that grtjiw 
the full-grown lady-Huwcr, curves upon her with amorjus firm 
legs, takes his will of her, and holds himself tremulous and tight 
till he in 

And, concluding another passage : 

"Bridegroom night of love, working lurely and softly into the proitratc 

dawn | 

Undulating into ths willing and yielding day, 
Lost in the cleave of the claspinj and swcct-llcJiM day. * 


The poet has charged h mself, as he passes on, to make 
full acknowledgment, for once or twice at least, to the 
Animal amative jin man, which is the basis of all there is of 
good and divine in him ; and he scornfully rejects the 
puerile creed that would put apart sex, and what arises 
from it, in humanity, as a forbidden and shameful topic, 
unworthy poetic treatment. His position toward the moral 
and aesthetic qualities, rising out of this question, is propor 
tionately serious ; though he has refrained from unduly 
exalting any part or endowment. 

In these brief Notes I cannot elaborate, though a volume 
ought to be written on this point. I can but say that in 
the furiously assaulted pieces now under notice, Walt 
Whitman, in my opinion, has best won his laurels, his 
fadeless future bardic crown. Not by the temporary or 
common judgment must these pieces be judged. Offenb-ve 
to the vulgar, to the merely conventional, to h m or her 
who weakly joins the prevailing delusion of the inherent 
vilcncss of sex, and, above all, to the constitutionally lech 
erous, who think of but one purpose in sex, and attempt to 
hide their own rank nature by extra verbal vocifcrousness 
in such questions; yet the high and clear soul will ever 
welcome these pieces with applauding joy, as Nature s, and, 
(if one may say so,) God s own celebration of amativeness 
and defence of sex. 

To the noblest male or female, there is no more reason 
for excluding sex, and what belongs to it, from the works 
and treatment of the poet, than there would be to exclude 
it from the works of the surgeon or physician. 



There is in LEAVES OP GRASS none of the customary sen- 
timcntal adulation of the " softer sex " none of that fulsome 
flattery and low-bowing deference which inflates the gallant 
poetry of the day ; but it is the first grand scheme of life 
anywhere, according to my knowledge, that proceeds upon, 
and inculcates, the perfect equality of the sexes. The 
woman the same as the man" our poet is never tired o 
repeating. How I love to dwell upon this picture of the 
typical woman of his poems: 

41 Her shape arises, 

She, less guarded than ever, yet more guarded than ever; 
The gross and soil d she moves among do not make her gross and soilM ; 
She knows the thoughts as she passes nothing i* conceal d from her; 
She is none the less considerate or friendly therefor ; 
She is the best-beloved it is without exception she has no reason to 

fear, and she does not fear; 
Oaths, quarrels, hiccupp d songs, smutty expressions, are idle to her as 

she passes; 

She is silent she is possess M of herself they do not offend her ; 
She receives them as the laws of nature receive them she is strong, 
She too is a law of nature there is no law stronger than she if.** 


The human body, in this portion of the book, and often 
elsewhere throughout its pages, receives indeed a treatment 
which may well strike society with wonder, and which, 
from the conventions of the day, it is not easy to penetrate 
or comprehend. 

The poet seems to gaze in a mood of awe and worship 
upon the mere material human body, cither male. or female, 
and all its functions. Nothing !s more intoxicating, nothing 


more sacred than the Body ; he often capitalizes the word, 
as is done with the name of the Deity. Far different from 
the world s acceptance of it, is his acceptance. Far from 
avoiding it, to dwell upon the Body, to sing of it, seems to 
imbue him with a devout ecstacy and passion. 

The purity of the Body in its juices and vascular and 
vital attributes, and all its organs, is, in fact, one of the 
lessons, if not the chief lesson of the book. To the 
young, or to any, its atmosphere in this respect is invaluable. 
One who has the volume for a daily companion will be 
under a constant invisible influence toward physiological 
cleanliness, strength, and gradual severance from all that 
corrupts and makes morbid and mean. 


Children of Adam is beautifully rounded off and finished 
by a collection of poems called Calamus, celebrating manly 
friendship and the need of comrades. These pieces, the 
poet declares, "expose him more than all his other poems." 
The sentiment here is primitive, athletic, taking form in all 
manner of large and homely out-door images, and springs, 
as any one may sec, directly from the heart and experience 
of the poet. It has, too, a political significance. Not 
paper agreement or force of arms is to perpetuate the Union 
and make the continent indissoluble, but love of man for 
man, of friend for friend : 

"What think yru I take my pen in hand to record? 
The battle-ship, perfect-model d, majestic, that I law past the offing 

to-day under full sail ? 
The splendors of the past day? Or the splendor of the night that 

envelops me ? 


Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city i prcad around me P 
No t 

But 1 record of two simple men I taw to- Jay, on the pier, in the midit 

of the crowd, parting the parting of dear friends ; 
The one to remain hung on the other * neck, and passionately kiss d him, 
While the one to depart tightly prest the one to remain in hi* arms." 

Then this quaint touch: 

" I hear it was charged against me that I sought to destroy institutions; 
But really I am neither for nor against institutions ; 
(What indeed have I in common with them? Or what with the 

destruction of them ?) 
Only I will establish in the Mannahatta, and in every city of These 

States, inland and seaboard, 
And in the fields and woods, and above every keel, little or large, that 

dents the water, 

Without edifices, or rules, or trustees, or any argument, 
The institution of the dear love of comrades." 


The pieces of the volume, though numerous, and both 
large and small, fall, in time, into identity, and become one 
poem, which finds its generic type in a human being. The 
writer says To a Historian: 

"You who celebrate bygones! 
Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the races the life that 

has exhibited itself; 
Who have treated of man as the creature of politics, aggregates, rulers 

and priests; 
I, habitue of the Allcghanies, treating man as he is in himself, in his 

own rights, 
Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself, (the great 

pride of man in himself}) 
Chanter of personality, outlining what is yet to be, I project the history 

of the future." 


The charge of want of unity of aim, or wholeness, brought 
against the earlier editions, will not hold against the com- \ 
plctcd work, lit up by the Inscription. To put it in a sen- 
tcncc, the object of the author is to outline a New Man, 
whom he regards as typical of the American of the future, 
and of whom he perpetually uses himself as the illustration. 
This character he has mapped out in bold, strong lines, and 
in its interest has written his poems. Of course the idea is 
followed with the greatest freedom, and appears best when 
the pieces are taken together, and viewed at a little remove 
as it were. 


The Nationality of the book seems to me perfect. Its 
treatment and consideration of the States of this Union as 
so many equal brothers, of exactly average right and posi 
tion, each the peer of the other, is of the greatest value. 
No statement, or code of law, can ever present this principle 
to the impressive degree in which LEAVES OF GRASS presents 
it. It becomes a central palpable fact, too certain to need 
argument, as life is. 

But not the States alone; it expands from them, and 
includes the world. Out of it, in these poems, flow count 
less analogies, illustrations, and noble lines, connecting an 
American citizen with the citizens of all nations : 

"Each of us inevitable; 

Each of us limitless each of us with his or her right upon the earth; 
Each of us allow d the eternal purports of the earth; 
Each of us here as divinely as any is here/* 

The book has indeed such good will on the widest scale, 
and places the United States in such an attitude of tolcra- 


tion and amicablencss. The globe is large enough for us 
all. There are far more point* of resemblance between 
distant nations than points of opposition. (See Salut au 
Monde, This Moment Teaming and Thoughtful, etc.) 


A profound claim, launched into the moral and aesthetic 
fields, the same as the claim of equality in the political Held, 
has of late years been pressed from many quarters, and has 
gained lodgement in most leading modern* minds, although 
not yet practically recognized at all in the forms of litera 
ture, or pcrhap* in any of the forms. It is the claim, or 
idea, that any and every individual, no matter what his 
occupation, farm laborer, common workman, sailor, etc., 
has open to him his equal lot and chance for physical, 
moral, and graceful development, with the choicest of the 
selecter few ; that, still retaining his occupation, he may be 
of largest soul and personality. 

Of what is contained in this idea, LEAVES OP GRASS is 
the poem. Upon the assumption of this claim as one settled 
and unimpeachable, the work is built. 


Satire has Walt Whitman that talent ? Docs he wield 
the branding iron ? Read To Get Betimes in Boston Town. 
Read Respondez. The mocking of devils is less caustic 
than the last-named piece. He holds at times a stern, 
warning, rebuking tone, peculiar to himself, as in the Hand 
Mirror, This Compost, and the bitter lines To Identify the 
\6tb, \Jtb, and \%tb Presidentiads. 

Then of Imagination, Correspondence ; I doubt whether 

for their purposes the English language affords a finer speci 
men of verbal structure than the Leaf of Facet. A German 
scholar and traveler has described this piece as being both 
Darwinian and Dantcsque. I quote onlv its first section : 

"Sauntering the pavement, or riding the country by-road lo! such 


Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality ; 
The spiritual prescient face the always welcome, common, benevolent 

The face of the singing of music the grand faces of natural lawyers 

and judges, broad at the back-top; 
The faces of hunters and fishers, bulged at the brows the lhaved 

Llanch d faces of orthodox citizens; 

The pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist s face; 
The ugly face of some beautiful Soul, the handsome detested or despi^ 

face ; 
Tlic sacred faces of infants, the illuminated face of the mother of many 


The face of an amour, the face of veneration ; 
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock; 
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated face; 
A wild hawk, his wings clipped by the clipper; 
A stallion that yielded at last to the thongs and knife of the gelder." 


Every now and then along the book, as we travel its 
paths, we get a whiiT of something that culture, be it the 
best in the world, never alone could give. It is like the 
smell of wild sage and rhyme in the pure air of the high 
plateaus far west. He turns pensively away from all the 
profits, luxuries, and irksome case of the cities. 

"O it lurks in me night and day "-what is gain after all to savageness 
and freedom?" 



Finally, I love LEAVES OF GRASS for its cheerful good 
faith, and because to its pages the cursed, finical, self-com 
placent smartness of our age has not entered, and does not 
once stain with its brilliant and bitter poison a single line 
there. The characteristic of prevailing literatures to 
make fun of everything. Our writers arc perpetually en 
gaged in turning character and humanity around and around, 
to discover something ridiculous and to point out defects, 
and are always generating and giving out productions from 
a supercilious point of view. Amid them comes this work, 
like a visitant from another and a distant clime. On its 
forehead BELIEF is stamped ; and, fortified with complete 
science, its firm and mellow voice again speaks as from that 
atmosphere of far-back time when God descended and 
walked as a brother among men. 

Out of such atmosphere, and with such primal and uni 
versal tics, up springs this structure, sheaf-like, enigmatic, 
various, yet one ; and as we gaze and gaze, and wish the 
unlocking word, gradually the dimness and the many-tinted, 
many-twining lines become illumined, definite, showing 
clearly the word MODLRNNESS. 




WHAT is the reason that the inexorable and perhaps decid 
ing standard by which poems, and other productions of art, 
must be tried, after the application of all minor tests, i& the 
standard of absolute Nature ? The question can hardly be 
answered, but the answer may be hinted at. The standard of 
form, for instance, is presented by Nature, out of the pre 
vailing shapes of her growths, and appears to perfection in 
the human body. All the forms in art, sculpture, architec 
ture, etc., follow it. Of course the same in colors ; and, in 
fact, the same even in music, though more human and 
carried higher. 

But a nearer hint still. The same moral elements and 
qualities that exist in man in a conscious state, exist, says 
the great German philosopher, in manifold material Nature, 
and all her products, in an unconscious state. Powerful 
and susceptible men in other words, poets, naturally so 
have an affiliation and identity with the material Nature in 
its entirety and parts, that the majority of people (including 
most specially intellectual persons) cannot begin to under- 


stand ; so passionate is it, and so convertible seems to be 
the essence of the demonstrative human spirit, with the 
undemonstrative spirit of the hill and wood, the river, fieM, 
and sky. 

I know that, at first sight, certain works of art, in some 
branches, do not exhibit this identity and convertibility. 
But it needs only a little trouble and thought to trace them. 
I assert that every true work of art has arisen, primarily, 
out of its maker, apart from his talent of manipulation, 
being filled fuller than other men with this passionate 
affiliation and identity with Nature. Then I go a step 
further, and, without being an artist myself, I feel that 
every good artist of any age would join me in subordinating 
the most vaunted beauties of the best artificial productions, 
to the daily and hourly beauty of the shows and objects of 
outward Nature. I mean inclusively, the objects of Nature 
in their human relations. 

To him that is pregnable, the rocks, the hills, the even 
ing, the grassy bank, the young trees and old trees, the 
various subtle dynamic forces, the sky, the seasons, the 
birds, the domestic animals, etc., furnish intimate and pre 
cious relations at first hand, which nothing at second hand 
can supply. Their spirit affords to man s spirit, I some 
times think, its only inlet to clear views of the highest 
Philosophy and Religion. Only in their spirit can he 
himself have health, sweetness, and proportion ; and only 
in their spirit can he give any essentially sound judgment of 
a poem, no matter what the subject of it may be. 

But it seems to me that the spirit or influence I allude to 
is, in our age, entirely lucking, either as an inspircr, or any 
part of the inspiration of ppems, or as a purt of the critical 


faculty which judges them, or judges of any work of art. 
We have swarms of little poctlings, producing swarms of 
soft and sickly little rhymelcts, on a par with the feeble 
calibre and vague and puerile inward melancholy, and out 
ward affectation and small talk, of that genteel mob called 
"society." We have, also, more or less of statues and 
statuettes, and plenty of architecture and upholster), and 
filagree work, very pretty and ornamental, and fit for those 
who are fit for it. But anything, in any of these fields, 
contributed at first hand, in the spirit I have spoken of, or 
abh tr give tonic and elevating results to the people, we 
certainly have not. Who thinks of it? Who comes for 
ward capable of producing it? Who even realizes the 
necessity of producing it? 


The whole stress of Walt Whitman is the supply of 
what is wanted in this direction. He possesses almost to 
excess the quality in which our imaginative writers and 
artists arc all and each of them barren. The inspiration of 
the facts per se of the human body, and of rude abysmal 
man, arc upon him ; and he speaks out of them without 
being diverted a moment by the current conventions, or 
any inquiry as to what is the literary mode, or what the 
public taste. 

He says plainly enough : I do not wish to speak from the 
atmosphere of books, or art, or the parlor; nor in the interest 
of the elegant and conventional modes. I pitch my voice 
in the open air. 

"Not for an embroiderer; 

(There will always be plenty of embroiderers I welcome them alsoj) 
But tor the fibre of things, and tor inherent men and women. 


Not to chisel ornaments, 

But to chisel with free stroke the heads and limb* of plenteous 

Supreme Gods, that The States may realize them, walking and 



Who is the great poet, and where the perfect poem? 
Nature itself is the only perfect poem, and the Kosmos is 
the only great poet. The Kosmos : 

"Who includes diversity, and is Nature, 

Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of 
the earth, and the great charity of the earth, and the equilibrium 

Who has not look d forth from the windows, the eyes, for nothing, or 
whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing; 

Who contains believers and disbelievers Who is the most majestic 

Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and 
of the arsthctic, or intellectual, 

Who, having considered the Body, rinds all its organs and parts good ; 

Who, out of the theory of the earth, and of his or her body, under 
stands by subtle analogies all other theories, 

The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of These States." 

The image Walt Whitman seems generally to have in 
his mind is that of the Earth, " round, rolling, compact," 
and he aims to produce effects analagous to those produced 
by it ; to address the mind as the landscape or the mountains, 
or ideas of space or time, address it; not to excite admira 
tion by fine and minute effects, but to feed the mind by 
exhibitions of power ; to make demands upon it, like those 
made by Nature ; to give it the grasp and vvhblesomcness 
which come from contact with realities ; to vitalize it by 
bringing to bear upon it material forms, and the width of 

the globe, a* the atmosphere bean upon the Mood through 
the lungs ; working alw.iy.i by indirections, und depending 
on a rurreypon-tivc working of the init.d that read.-* or hears, 
with the mind that produce.-, us the female with the male; 
careless of mere art, yet loyally achieving the effects oi 
higher art ; not unmindful of details yet subordinating 
everything to the total effect, 


Yet no modern book of poems says so little about Nature, 
or contain* so few compliments to. her. Its subject, from 
beginning to end, is MAN, and whatever pertains to or 
^row out of him ; the fact* of mechanics, the life of cities 
and farm*, und the various trades and occupations, What 
1 describe, therefore, mu*t be sought in it-, interior. The 
poet is not merely an otaerver of Nature, r.ut is immersed 
in her, und from thence turns his gu/e upon people, upon 
the uy.e, and upon America, Heretofore, we have had 
Nature talked of and dhcu^ed ; these poems approximate 
to a direct utterance of Nature herself, 

From this come*, in a ncnse, the male principle of tho 
book, which j-.iven that erect, proud, H^retmivc, forenoon 
character, the opposite of dallying, or sentimcntalUm, or 
poetic sweetness, or reclining at ease but which tallies 
man * rude health und xrcngth, and goes forward with 
tincwy life and action, i rom the Mime source also comes 
that quality of the book which makes it, on the surface, 
utmost as little literary or recondite as the rocks and the 
trees are, or as a spring morning is. Yet a careful analysis 
fthows that the author has certainly wrought with all the 
resources of literary composition at command. In the 


same drgrce that the hook is great in a primordial, aboriginal 
sense, is ii great in a Gccthean, Emersonian literary sense. 
It touches and includes both extremes ; not only is the 
bottom here, but the top also ; not only all that science can 
give, but more besides. No doubt this fact greatly misled 
the critics, who failed to discriminate between mere wild- 
ness and savagery, as waiting for science and culture, and 
that vital sympathy with Nature, and freedom from con 
ventional literary restraint, which comes only with the 
fullest science and culture, and which is one of the dis 
tinguishing features of our author. 

Of the current condition of criticism in this country, the 
future literary historian will need no more painful or de 
cisive proof than the fact that a production like LEAVES OP 
GRASS could pass as merely a crude and awkward attempt 
at poetry, by an unlettered man, perhaps a common laborer, 
v/ho, (it was graciously admitted,) with the advantages or 
"culture" and "good society," might have made sleek little 
rhymes, like his contemporaries. I know the common rule 
that aspirants to literary fame must be measured by the 
standards of art and literature in vogue at the time. But 
when a man comes who justifies new standards and princi 
ples, the question then is, not whether he can stand the tests of 
the academy, but whether the academy can stand his tests. 


He gives not so much thought, as the stuff of which 
thought is made. " I finish no specimens," he says ; " What 
others give as specimens, I show by cxhaustlcss laws, as 
Nature does, fresh and modern continually." Indeed he 
seems careful to avoid making a clean intellectual statement 


of a principle, or of shining in the scholastic manner at all. 
He no sooner starts a principle than he surrounds it and 
lothc. it with a living texture of things ami doings, redeem 
ing it from all appearance of an abstraction, and giving it a 
palpable flcsh-and-blood reality ; so that the effect upon the 
mind is not the cffeVt of gems or crystals, or their analogues 
in poetry, but of living organisms. Take the poem or 
which the following is the opening: 

There wa< a child went forth every diyj 
And the liirt < bjcvt he looJt d ujxm, that obj-ct he bcc.imc ; 
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of 
the day, or for many year?, or stretching cycles of years. 

The early lilacs became part of this child, 

And gr. ^, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, 

and the song of the phrrbe-bird, 
An i the Third-month lambs, and the o\v s pink-faint litter, and the 

mare s foil, and the cow s calf, 

And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond -side, 
And the ri.-h suspending themselves so curiously below there and the 

beautiful curijus liquid, 
And the water-plants with their graceful fin heads all became part 

of him." 

This passage contains a philosophical and psychological 
principle; yet it is not stated or precipitated at all, but 
held in liquid solution. 

The poet, like Nature, seems best pleased when his 
meaning is well folded up, put away, and surrounded by a 
curious array of diverting attributes and objects. Perhaps 
the point may be conveyed by the term elliptical. A word 
or brief phrase is often, or usually, put for a full picture or 
idea, or train of ideas or pictures. Bat the word or phrase 


is always an electric one, lie never atopi to elaborate, 
never explain*, 

Docs it seem a* if I pmi.<cd him for makinp riddles ? I* not it | he doc* not make riddle*, or anything like 
them, He in very subtle, Very indirect, and very rapid, 
and if the reader is not fully awake will surely elude him. 
Take this passage from the poem Waft Whitman: 

"Of the turbid pool that lie* in the autumn forest, 
Of the raoon that descends the steep* of the soughing twilight, 
TOM, sparklet of day and dusk ! tou un the black stems that decay in 

the muck ! 
TOM to the meaning gibberish of the dry limbs. 

1 acrnd from the moon, I ascend from the night \ 
I perceive that the ghastly glimmer it noonday sunbeams reflected $ 
And debouch to the steady and central from the offspring great or 

A picture of Death and a hint of immortality, and that 
the shows of things never stop at what they seem to the 
light, The pale and ghastly glimmer of the moon in the 
midnight pool is, when viewed truly, the li t ht of the ever- 
glorious sun. 


Then further as to the question of finish or definite aim. 
To me the book is much like pure arterial blood. No 
other poems afford a paraucl in this respect. Out of its 
very nature arises the objection from certain quarters that it 
has no distinct purpose or aim, and therefore has no artistic 
completion. It certainly has not the finish of a talc, 
romance, or any plot, which begins, goes on, and closes ; 
neither has it the special purpose of a partisan book, or of a 
religious, scientific or philosophical treatise; but it has 


purpose npnin just as Nature has; to nourish, to strengthen, 
to fortify, to tantalize, to provoke curiosity, to hint, t(S 
supgcst, to lead on and on, and never stop and never satisfy. 
Its final end is power; it walls no man in, but opens up to 
him endless prospects into space and the verities of the soul. 
The author himself says that his poems arc not so much a 
good lesson, as that they take down the bars to a good 
lesson : 

"they arc not the finish, "}ut rather the outset; 

They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be contented and full; 
Whom they take, they take into space, to behold the birth of stars, to 

behold one of the meanings, 
To launch off with absolute faith to sweep through the ceaseless 

rings, and never be quiet again." 

The brilliant epigrammatist will surely find the book an 
offence, and will battle against it ; because the poetry of Walt 
Whitman is, in a certain sort, death to epigrams, and is 
either the large poetry of the Whole, of Science, and of 
God, or it is nothing. 

The profit of the book is largely in what it infers and 
necessitates. Like the bibles of nations, it is not so much 
what it gives in itself, as what it certainly gives birth to a 
long train of revelations, new opinions, beliefs and institu 

The highest art is not to express art, but to express life 
and communicate power. Let those persons who have 
been -so fast to criticise LEAVES OF GRASS in this respect 
reflect if Nature be not open to the same objections, and if 
the living figure be not less than the marble statue, because 
it does not stimulate the art faculty. Both readers and 
writers need to be told that a poet may propose to himself 

h ghcr ends than lace or needlework. Modern verse does 
not express the great liberating power of Art, but only its 
conventional limitations, and the elegant finish of detail* to 
which society runs. It never once ceases to appeal directly 
to that part of the mind which is cogni/ant of mere form 
form denoted by regular lines. It is never so bold as music, 
which in the analysis is discord, but in the synthesis har 
mony; and falls far short of painting, which puts in masses 
of subdued color to one brilliant point, and which is forever 
escaping out of mere form into vista. 

( To accuse Walt Whitman, therefore, of want of art, is 
to overlook his generic quality, and shows ignorance of the 
ends for which Nature and Time exist to the mind. He 
has the art which surrounds all art, aj the .sphere holds all 
form. He works, it may be said, after the pure method of 
Nature, and nothing less; and includes not only the artist 
of the beautiful, but forestalls *thc preacher and the moralist 
by his synthesis and kosmical integrity. 


Dating mainly from Wordsworth and his school, there is 
in modern literature, and especially in current poetry, a 
great deal of what is technically called Nature. Indeed it 
might seem that this subject was worn threadbare long ago, 
and that something else was needed. The word Nature, 
now, to most readers, suggests only some flower bank, or 
summer cloud, or pretty scene that appeals to the sentiments. 
None of this ia in Walt Whitman. And it is because he 
corrects this false, artificial Nature, and shows me the real 
article, that I hail his appearance as the most important 
literary event of our times. 


Wordsworth was truly a devout and loving observer of 
Nature, and perhaps has indicated more surely than any 
other poet the healthful moral influence of the milder 
aspects of rural scenery. But to have spoken in the full 
spirit of the least fact which he describes would have rent 
him to atoms. To have accepted Nature in her entirety, 
as the absolutely good and the absolutely beautiful, would 
have been to him tantamount to moral and intellectual de 
struction. He is simply a rural and metaphysical poet whose 
subjects arc drawn mostly from Nature, instead of from society, 
or the domain of romance; and he tells in so many words 
what he sees and feels in the presence of natural objects. 
He has definite aim, like a preacher or moralist as he was, 
and his effects arc nearer akin to those of pretty vases and 
parlor ornaments than to trees or hills. 

In Nature everything is held in solution; there arc no 
discriminations, or failures, or ends; there is no poetry or 
philosophy but there is that which is better, and which 
feeds the soul, diffusing itself through the mind in calm and 
equable showers. To give the analogy of this in the least 
degree was not the success of Wordsworth. Neither has 
it been the success of any of the so-called poets of Nature 
since his time. Admirable as many of these poets are in 
some respects, they arc but visiting-card callers upon Nature, 
going to her for tropes and figures only. In the products 
of the lesser fry of them I recognize merely a small toying 
with Nature a kind of sentimental flirtation with birds 
and butterflies. 

I am aware, also, that the Germanic literary "storm and 
stress periods," during the latter part of the last century, 
screamed vehemently for " Nature " too ; but they knew 


not what they said. The applauded works of that period 
and place were far from the spirit of Nature, which is 
health, not disease. 


If it appears that I am devoting my pages to the exclu 
sive consideration of literature from the point of view of 
Nature and the spirit of Nature, it is not because I am 
unaware of other and very important standards and points 
of view. But these others, at the present day, need no 
urging, nor even a statement from me. Their claims arc 
not only acknowledged they tyrannize out of all propor 
tion. The standards of Nature apply just as much to what 
is called artificial lite, all that belongs lo cities and to modern 
manufactures and machinery, and the life arising out of 
them. Walt Whitman s poems, though entirely gathered, 
as it were, under the banner of the Natural Universal, in 
clude, for themes, as has been already stated, all modern 
artificial combinations, and the facts of machinery, trades, 
&c. These are an essential part of his chants. It is, 
indeed, all the more indispensable to resume and apply to 
these, the genuine standards. 

Our civilization is not an escape from Nature, but a mas 
tery over, and following out of, Nature. We do not keep 
the air and the sunlight out of our houses, but only the rain 
and the cold ; and the untamed and unrefined elements of 
the earth are just as truly the sources of our health and 
strength as they are of the savages . In speaking of Walt 
Whitman s poetry, I do not mean raw, unreclaimed Na 
ture. I mean the human absorption of Nature like the 
earths in fruit and grain, or in the animal economy. The 

dominant facts of his poetry, carried out strictly and inva 
riably from these principles, are Life, Love, and the Im 
mortal Identity of the Soul. Here he culminates, and here 
arc the regions where, in all his themes, after treating them, 
he finally ascends with them, soaring high and cleaving the 




In beauty ornament, or is it an inherency ? Is it an out 
side addition and polish, or docs it reside in the fibre and 
quality of things themselves? Would our search for beauty 
lead us to regard only the brilliancies, the flowers, the 
accordant sounds, the reflections in the pond? or have the 
rocks and the weeds a part to play also? 

In ancient mythology, beauty is represented as riding on 
the back of a lion ; meaning, probably, that beauty cannot 
be enjoyed alone cannot be separated from power or even 
savage necessity. In short, that it is linked with its oppo 
site. This is the invariable order of Nature. 

It comes to me, that there is something implied or under 
stood when we look upon a beautiful object, that has quite 
as much to do with the impression made upon the mind 
s anything in the object itself; perhaps more. There is 
somehow an immense and undefined background of vast and 
unconscionable energy, as of earthquakes, and ocean storms, 
and cleft mountains, across which things of beauty play, 
and to which they constantly defer ; and when this back- 


pround is wanting, as it ir, in mor.t current poetry, beauty 
sickens and dies, or at most has only a feeble existence. 

Nature docj nothing merely for beauty ; beauty follows 
as the inevitable result ; and the iinprcsiion of total health 
and finish which her works make upon the mind is ing 
as much to those things which are not technically veiled 
beautiful, as to those which arc. The former give identity 
to the latter. The one is to the other what substance is to 
form, or bone to flesh. The beauty of Nature includes all 
that is called beautiful, as its flower; and all that is not 
called beautiful, as its stalk and roots. 

Indeed when I go to the woods or fields, or ascend to 
the hill-top, I do not seem to be gazing upon beauty at all, 
but to be breathing it like the air. I am not dazzled or 
astonished ; I am in no hurry to look, lest it be gone. I 
would not have the litter and debris removed, or the banks 
trimmed, or the ground painted. What I enjoy is commen 
surate with the earth and sky itself. It clings to the rocks 
and trees ; it is kindred to the roughness and savagery ; it 
lurks in every tangle and chasm ; it perches on the dry oak 
stubbs ; the fox and the coon give it out as they pass ; the 
crows caw it, and weave it into their nests of coarse sticks; 
the cattle low it, and every mountain path leads to its 
haunts. I am not a spectator of, but a participator in it. 
It becomes as the iron and lime and oxygen in my blood 
and bones. It is not an adornment; its roots strike to the 
centre of the earth. 


After fullest experience, one surely comes to feel that art, 
as such, is death ; and that only that invigorates \vhich 
leaves an office to be performed by the eye that sees. Such 


alone stimulates desire, and blends with the mind. The 
commonest and the nearest arc at last the most acceptable. 
The old chamber without ceiling or plaster, the litter of 
out-houses, the hut in the woods, tHc rustic bridge, the 
farmer with his team, or foddering his cattle from a stack 
upon the new snow one feels that it is from such that he 
himself came, and from such, after all due acknowledgments 
to books and to civilization have been made, that he still 
draws the breath of life. 

* I believe a leaf of grass w no less than the journey-work of the stars, 
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the e^g of 

the wren, 

And the tree-toad is a chcf-d iruvrc for the highest, 
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, 
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery, 
And the cow crunching with deprcst head surpasses any statue, 
And a mouss is miracle enough to stagger sex til lions of infidel*, 
And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer s 
girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking short-cake." 


It must be ever present to the true artist in his attempt 
to report Nature, that every object as it stands in the sequence 
of cause and effect has a history which involves its surround 
ings, and that the depth of the interest which it awakens in 
us is in proportion as its integrity in this respect is preserved. 
In Nature we are prepared for any opulence of color, or 
vegetation, or freak of form, or display of any kind, by the 
preponderance of the common, ever-present features of the 
earth. I never knew how beautiful a red-bird was till I 
caw one darting through the recesses of a shaggy old hem 
lock wood. In like manner the bird of the naturalist can 


never interest us like the thrush the farm boy heard singing 
in the cedars at twilight as he drove the cows to pasture, 
or like the swallow that flew gleefully in the air. above 
him as lie picked the stones from the early May meadow. 


The current poetry of the day is an attempt to give us 
beauty without the lion. It aims at great surface charm 
possesses the merit of form, of color, of jewels, of perfume 
but has none of the charm of power and aboriginal might, 
or the charm shown by the best Greek and oldest Asiatic 
bards, which is above all color and sparkle, and upon which 
these things wait as willing slaves. It proceeds on the 
theory that beauty is a dainty discriminate, something to be 
arrived at by a sifting, clarifying process ; that it is quite 
accidental, residing in certain things and not in others ; that 
it is entirely distinct from use and economy, and is pecu 
liarly the province of poetry, being achieved here by a 
lucky combination of sweet, picked words and tropes, etc. 
Hence, on opening a book of modern poetry, one feels like 
exclaiming, Well, here is the beautiful at last, divested of 
everything else of truth, of power, of economy ; and one 
may add, of beauty too. 

" Labor for labor s sake," says Locke, " is against nature ;" 
and beauty sought directly as beauty is the spinal weakness 
of modern verse. Because some objects are, to girls and 
young men, more obviously beautiful than others, and attract 
common beholders, the mind which has not yet opened to 
the perception of law of that which makes beautiful 
jumps to the conclusion that beauty has an objective exist 
ence, and that to collect together those objects of Nature 


that first awaken the sentiment, and string them on some 
thread of romance, or delicate thought, is* the secret o! 
making beautiful poems! 

Woe .to that poet, musician, or any artist, who disengages 
beauty from the wide background of rudeness, darkness, 
and strength and disengages her from absolute Nature ! The 
mild and beneficent aspects of Nature what gulfs and 
abysses of power underlie them ! The great, ugly, barbaric 
earth yet the summing up, the plenum of all we know, or 
can know, of beauty ! So the orbic poems of the world 
have a foundation as of the earth itself, and arc beautiful 
because they are something else first. Homer chose for his 
groundwork War, clinching, tearing, tugging war; in Dante 
it is Hell; in Milton, Satan and the Fall; in Shakspeurc it 
is pride and diabolic passion. What is it in Tennyson? 
Soft aristocratic ennui and luxury, and love-sick sentiment. 
The dainty poets, " the eye singers, car singers, love 
singers," have not the courage, the stamina, to accept the 
gross in Nature or life ; that which is the basis of all else. 
Only the great masters accept all. It is this which gives 
genesis io their works. 


Do I say, then, that beauty is not the object or attribute 
of LEAVES OP GRASS ? Not directly the object, but indirectly. 
The love of eternal beauty and of truth move the author to 
his work, producing a poem without a single piece of cm- 
broidery or hung-on ornament, yet in its quality and propor 
tion dominating, in this very attribute, all rivals. 

It is on the clear eye, the firm and limber step, the 
sweet breath, the loving lip, the magnetism of sex, the 


lofty and religious soul, eloquent in figure as in face, that 
Walt Whitman has depended for beauty s attractiveness in 
hi* poem*. 

He U by no means insensible to what is called the poetic 
aspect of things; only he uses this clement sparingly; and 
well seasoned with the salt of the earth. Where others 
bring a flower from the woods or a shell from the shore, he 
brings the woods and the shore also, so that his charm lies 
in the completed integrity of his statements. 

Of a long account of a battle which I once read in some 
old Grecian history I remember only the fact, casually 
mentioned by the historian, that the whereabouts of one 
army was betrayed to the other by the glint of the moon, 
light upon the shield of a soldier as he stood orf a high hill. 
The touches in LEAVES OF GRASS arc of like significance, 
and by their singleness and peculiarity not one is lest to the 

But this is not the final statement. That which in every 
instance has been counted the defect of Walt Whitman s 
writings, namely, that they are not markedly poetical, as 
that term is used, constitutes their transcendent merit. 
Unlike all others, this poet s words seem dressed for work, 
with hands and arms bare. At first sight they appear as 
careless of mere beauty, or mere art, as do the leaves of the 
forest about numbers, or the snow-flakes as to where they 
shall fall ; yet his poems do more to the mind, for this very 
reason, than the most ostentatiously elaborated works. 
They indicate fresh and near at hand the exhaustless sources 
of beauty and art. Comparatively few minds are impressed 
with the organic beauty of the world. That there are gleams 
and touches here and there which not only have no refer- 

, 5C> 

cnce " to the compact truth of the whole,** but which are 
lucky exceptions to the general rule, and which it is the 
province of art to fix and perpetuate in color or form, u the 
notion of all our poets and poetlings. Outside of LEAVES 
OK GRASS there is no theory or practice in modern letters 
that keeps in view the principle after which the highest 
artists, like Michael Angelo, have wrought, namely, % iat in 
the unimpeachable health and rectitude and latent power 
of the world are to be found the true sources of beauty for 
purposes of Art. 

The perception of such high, kosmical beauty comes by 
a vital original process of the mind. It is in some measure 
a creative act, and those works that rest upon it make de 
mands perhaps extraordinary demands upon the reader 
or beholder. We regard mere surface glitter, or mere verbal 
sweetness, in a mood entirely passive, and with a pleasure 
entirely profitless. The beauty of excellent stage scenery 
seems much more obvious and easy of apprehension than 
the beauty of the trees und hills themselves, inasmuch as 
the act of association in the mind is easier and inferior to 
the act of original perception. 

Only the greatest works in any department afford any 
explanation of this wonder we call Nature, or aid the mind 
in arriving at correct notions concerning it. To copy here 
and there a line or a tint is no explanation ; but to translate 
Nature into another language to repeat, in some sort, the 
act of creation itself as is done in LEAVES OF GRASS, is the 
final and crowning triumph of poetic art. 




IT has been mournfully complained that specimens of 
men equal to the towering and gigantic Personalities of 
ancient days, before the advent of general science and 
modern inventions, no more exist among us. Walt Whit 
man s aim evidently is to produce Personalities not merely 
as full as those of the primitive times, but which will have, 
in addition, all that the long train of knowledge, science, 
inventions and commerce, have accumulated since, and which 
will also be perfectly adapted to modern social and municipal 

LEAVES op GRASS, in fact, proceed upon the theory 
that, whether she knows it or not, America has staked her 
success upon the excellence of the average individual, and 
that the thing she needs to cultivate and to value above all other 
values is a strong and fully-equipped Personality. Culture, 
social conventions, luxuries, the multiplication of appliances 
for making people comfortable and easy, and for rendering 
feet and hands superfluous, tend to break up and diffuse 

. 58 

capacity, and lead to decay in the qualities of rude endurance 
and grand primary idiosyncracics. Hence this poem, bring 
ing what we most need, is flooded and charged with all the 
valor, spirit, and wholesomcncss begotten by the hardier 

Indeed I doubt if the literature of any nation has a book 
that confronts the reader with a personality so pervasive 
and full as that in LEAVES OP GRASS. It becomes more and 
more apparent as we peruse its pages, that this is the enclos 
ing purport of all. It is himself finally in the integrity of 
his entire Being, that the author gives us. Books hereto 
fore that have aspired to the expression of great truths 
have been more intellectual than Nature will bear have 
expressed that which makes the scholar, the thinker, the 
artist, the priest, etc., divorced from that which makes the 
Man so that the works of all old and highly-civilized 
nations are usually a collection of theories or systems or 
metaphysical speculations, and for any vital characteristic 
touches, we are obliged to go back to their early ballads, 
before the advent of science and general knowledge. Now 
LEAVES OF GRASS expresses the intellect, but it does not 
stop here ; it goes as high as the highest ; then it expresses 
what none other does, the body, sex, health, personal mag- 
netism ; in short the vittl physiological fusion and knitting 
together of all the elements that make a fully endowed per 
sonality. It is perfectly true that to the careless observer 
it seems to fall below the standard of the polite and learned 
authors, by expressing not the scholar or the artist or the 
prutWional litterateur merely, but the veritable Adjmic 
Man as he stands immersed in realities, and as he goes forth 
to conquer and populate and possess the earth. 

5 J 

I M. i the poem of uccup ttioiM ) 
In the Lln.r ! en vino- anJ trade j, and the labor of fields, I find ilie 

And find the eternal meanings. 

Workmen and workwomen t 

Were all educations, practical and ornamental, well displayed out of 

m?, what would it amount to? 
Were I a the head teacher, chariiable proprietor, wise statesman, what 

wuuld it amount to? 
Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you, would that satisfy 


The learn d, virtuou*, benevolent, and the usual tcrmsj 
A man like me, nnd never the usual terms. 

Neither a servant nor a master am I ; 

I take no sooner a large price than a small price I will have my own, 

whoever enjoys mej 
I will be even with you, and you shall be even with me." 

It i* t of course, never the conventional man of to-day for 
whom he speaks. He has rejected the conventional man 
of to-day as ctFctc; has ignored his ennuyed and foppish 
modes, and sowed broadcast a " new gladness and rough 
ness." How the following passages contrast with the con 
fectionery of the popular poets : 

"O lands ! would you be freer than all that has ever been before? 
If you would be freer than all that has been before, come listen to me. 

Fear grace Fear dclicatcssc ! 

Fear the mellow sweet, the sucking of honey-juice j 

lie w.i re the jj valuing ripening of nature ! 

ikwarc what precedes the decay of the ru^gcdnes* of &Utes and uen." 

And in the like strain: 


"Listen! 1 will he honest with you) 

1 do not offer the old mouth prizes, but offer rough new pme j 
Thee are the days that must happen to you t 

You shall not heap up what ii called riches, 

You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve, 

You but arrive at the city to which you were destined you hardly 
settle yourself to satisfaction, before you are call d by an irre 
sistible call to depart \ 

You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mocking* of those who 
remain behind you| 

What beckonings of love you receive, you shall only answer with pas 
sionate kisses of parting. 

You shall not a low the hold of those who spread their reach d hands 
toward you." 

And in another place : 

"Long enough have you dream d contemptible dreams) 
Now I wath the gum from your eyes) 

You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light, and of every moment 
of your life. 

Long have you timidly w.n!rd, holding pUnk by tha shore) 
Now I w lll you to be a bold swimmer, 

To jump olf in the midit of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and 
laughingly dash with your hair." 

And, after a different figure: 

M I tramp a perpetual journey (come listen all !) 
My signs arc a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the 

woods ; 

No friend of mine takes his case in my chair) 
J have no chair, no church, no philosophy) 
I lead no nun to a dinner-table, library, or exchange) 
liut each man and each woman of you 1 lead upon a knoll, 
My left hand hooking you round the waist, 

My tijit hand pointing to Unduapcs of continents, and a plain public 
road. 11 


And tliis jubilant hurst: 

"O the y>y of a manly self-hood! 
Personality to be cervile to none to defer to none not to any tyrant, 

known or unknown, 

To walk with erect carriage, a step springy and elastic, 
To look with calm ga/c, or with a flashing eye, 
To speak with a full and sonorous voice, out of a broad chest, 
To confront with your personality all the other personalities of the 


The lines To a Pttpif are in the same key: 

44 Is reform needed? Is it through you? 

The greater the reform needed, the greater the PERSONALITY you need 
to accomplish it. 

Vou ! do you not see how it would serve to have eyes, blood, complexion, 
clean and sweet? 

Do you not sec how it would serve to have such a Body and Soul, that 
when you enter the crowd, an atmosphere of desire and com 
mand enters with you, and every one is imprcss d with your 
personality ? 

O the magnet ! the flesh over and over ! 

Go, dear friend! if need be, give up all else, and commence to-day to 
inure yourself to pluck, reality, self-esteem, detiniceness, ele 
vated ness j 

Rest not, till you rivet and publish yourself of your own personality.** 


The theory of the book implies plenty of time, and abso 
lute unconstraint. "It has," says a European scholar, "an 
immense sense of space." 

The centre of its standards, or the region where it is to 
be proved and justified, is perhaps the West the valley of 
the Mississippi and ilic Pacific slopes. It anticipates the 
unfolding of the country in that direction. Few people 


think how fast the theatre of our national history is being 
transferred from the Atlantic seaboard to the valley of the 
Mississippi, and beyond ; and how surely the foreign forms, 
both in literature and manners, of our seaport towns, will 
fail to meet the demands of inland America. And it is 
with his eye upon the West, and in the spirit of our resistless 
onward movement, that Walt Whitman has written. He 
ccks to beget and lead forward the greatness which he cel 
ebrates. His poetry, therefore, is not a reminiscence, or a 
closing up of an era or race, as Shakspcare is, but is a 
prophecy, and has unbounded vista. 

Especially is this true of the august character and mission 
it ascribes to the poet, and which find no echo or type 
amid the rhymesters of the present day, cither here or in 
Europe. Whether or not its daring vaticinations will be 
fulfilled whether or not a new race of bards, "native, 
athletic, continental," will ever appear in the United States, 
time alone can show. This author seems to sec beneath 
the prevailing cheapness and simulation, agencies at work 
which must inevitably lead to his fulfilments. He himself 
claims only to have spoken the awakening word, to have 
given the seminal impulse. 

In the SONGS BEFORE PARTING, he frees himself upon the 
subject. They open thus: 

A I sat alone, by blue Ontario s shore, 
As I mused of these mighty days, and of peace return d, and the dead 

that return no more, 

A Phantom, gigantic, superb, with stern .visage, accosted mej 
Chant me a poem, it said, of the ran^e of the h ^h Soul of l>oen, 
And chant of the ivtkomc bardt that breathe but my native air 

thou bards f 
And chant me, before you go, the Song of the throei of Democracy. 


He then proceeds to dilate with tremendous power upon 
Democracy, Nativity, and Individuality, putting terrible 
questions to contemporary singers, and outlining a poet fit 
for these Lands and Days. 

"Rhymes and rhymer* pass away poems dbtiU d from other poems pass 

The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave ashes; 

Admirers, importers, obedient persons, make but the soil of literature; 

America justifies itself, give it time no disguise can deceive it, or con 
ceal from it it is impassive enough, 

Only toward the likes of itself will it advance to meet them, 

If its poets appear, it will in due time advance to meet them there is 
no fear of mistake, 

(The proof of a poet shall be sternly dcferr d, till his country absorbs 
him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.)" 

The conclusion of this piece I give entire: 

"Thus, by blue Ontario s shore, 

While the winds fann d me, and the waves came trooping toward me, 
1 san t with the Power s pulsations and the charm of my theme was 

upon me, 
Till the tissues that held me parted their ties upon me. 

And I saw the free Soul of poets; 

The loftiest bards of past ages strode before me, 

Strange, large men, long unknown, undisclosed, were disclosed to me. 

O my rapt song, my charm mock me not! 

Not for the bards of the past not to invoke them have I launched you 


Not to call even those lofty bards here by Ontario s shores, 
Have I sun, so capricious and loud, my savage song. 

But, O strong soul of Poets, 

Bards for my own land, ere I go, I invoke. 


You Bards grind M these dap ao grand! 
Bard* of the Great Idea! Bards of the wondrous inventions ! 
Bards of the marching armies a million soldiers waiting ever-ready, 
Bards towering like hilis (no more these dots, these pigmies, these 

little piping straws, these gnats, that fill the hour, to pass for 

poets j) 

Bards with songs as from burning coals, or the lightning s fork*d stripes! 
Ample Ohio s bards bards for California! inland bards; 
Bards of pride! Bards tallying the ocean s roar, and the swooping eagle s 

You, by my charm, I invoke!" 




A SIGNAL service LEAVES OF GRASS is to render the literary 
world will be the production, for the future benefit of 
America, of a noble school of Criticism. While the book 
itself is purely a poem, with nothing didactic, it yet aids 
toward that result more than tomes of essays and arguments. 
Its presentation of the difference between the mere verbal 
singer and the full poet, (see The Indications^) a difference 
which is entirely lost sight of in our day, is invaluable. Its 
very atmosphere is liberating, and its largeness and generosity 
must tell even upon the narrowest minded routinist. Thrice 
blessed its effect here ! and may it hasten and speed forward ! 
Probably never again can the land more need genuine and 
full-grown critics than it needs them during the present 
stages of its development. With all the matchless geo 
graphical area of America, her smartness, her prowess in 
war, her schools, her material products, incomparable 
worldly wealth, etc., her condition of aesthetic perception, 
and original products therefrom, in books or art, is appalling ! 
The same in her "society," so-called. Theoretically we 


ought to show only "great personalities;" hut the circles 
alluded to exhibit but an average of the meagre and the 
mean. We have the worst manners in the world, the vul- 
garcst ideas of beauty, and the flunkicst literature. It would 
seem as if America, from some unaccountable cause, has 
planted or allowed her least manly and least spiritual speci 
mens on the current literary and eminent social posts. 
Nothing but a new race of intellectual American law-givers, 
of a type at present undreamed of, will redeem this condi 
tion, establish a noble standard of manners, and habilitate a 
literature ascending to the expression of life, and things, 
and man, and not remaining as now, the mere expression of 
literature itself and mainly fossil and foreign literature too. 
[Yet there arc exceptions. The lofty snd venerable 
name of Emerson his genius, modern, yet blending with 
the purest antique, and ever dear to American young men 
is secure of its perennial crown of verdure and flowers. 

Then in our daily newspapers, with all their faults, there 
is ground for highest commendation. 

Then, also, the fact that everything in America is great, 
except her literature, may stand as her most available excuse. 
America is hitherto busied with other things, and is content 
with the literature which will feed the common moral 
stomach as the butcher and baker feed the physical.] 


In the matter of the free " notices," mostly from a cer 
tain little class, or quintette, of writers and poetlings, who 
never lose an .pportunity to misrepresent and slander 
LEAVES OF GRASS and its author, and who, from possessing 
access to the " literary organs," have caused a very deccp- 


tivc appearance of general condemnatory judgment, I ought 
probably to imitate the example of Mr. Whitman himself, 
who has never once, in his whole life, deigned to make the 
least reply to any of them. Making the most of this impu 
nity flowing from contempt, and every now and then taking 
some new accession to their number, the members of this 
little class have actively pursued their work, by wrenching 
the text, by open lie, and by covert inuendo; have con 
tinued at it for the past ten years, and arc at it still. (See 
A ; . A. Review, January, 1867.) 

J have heard Mr. Whitman himself laughingly defend 
them, as proving to its utmost the theory of freedom in 
expression on men and works, and declare that it is a pro 
vision of Nature to test the strength of new, pretensive 
authors. I should, however, apply to it that other kind of 
judgment, in which Carlyle, (Frederick, Book 14,) speaking 
of " that Anarchic Republic called of Letters," and certainly 
with reference to some of this same kind of its members, 
says, * When your lowest blockhead and scoundrel (usually 
one entity") shall have perfect freedom to spit in the face 
of your highest sage and hero, what a remarkably free world 

we shall be!" 



Again, and stronger than before, I assert, before closing, 
the theory that the standard by which to measure the work 
of a poet of the very first class, is neither the standard of 
the parlor, of society, nor even of aesthetics or erudition, but 
the standard of the actual WORLD, with humanity as its 
choicest fruition. 

Man is the crowning product of God, of Nature, because 


in him all that preceded, and all that exists in objective 
Nature is resumed. He comprehends all, and in him what 
was elsewhere unconscious becomes conscious; what was 
physical becomes moral. He is a living proof every 
single atom of dust is capable of vital life and divine aspira 
tion. Without him Nature, though living, is dead. He 
vivifies it, blends it, as the body blends with and becomes 
dear to the soul. He only, finally, // Nature entire. Who 
sjiall isolate him who discriminate setting him in one 
place, and the things of the earth far apart in another 
place ? 

That which arises out of this, as a logical statement, 
Walt Whitman, without once making the least bit of a 
logical statement, contains, like some fine quality of climate, 
or flavor of perfect fruit, all through his book. Man, 
indeed, is Nature. Not for materialism ; not for pantheism. 
Let no wretched, hasty, sectarian reader go off in a huff 
with premature judgment. The Spirituality of Walt Whit 
man, in perfect accordance with the principle I have been 
treating, is the most absolute yet known. The flights, the 
demands of the ordinary sects and creeds, to him are pitiful 
and mean. Inflated with the tremendous destinies and im 
mortality of man, his pages swell and roll with religious 
emotion like ocean s waves. He finds, anywhere and now, 
men that dwarf all mythologies. He tests the works of 
Madonnas and Christs in his daily walk and observations. 


Of the form of Walt Whitman s verse, except so far as 
it is connected with the general purpose of the book, dis 
cussed in another place, I have yet said nothing. Coming 


from the dulcet metres of Tennyson to the irregular and 
long-returning rhythm of LEAVES OP GRASS may well uzzlc 
any current reader. Yet the sentences here are always 
poised and well timed; never slovenly, never loose, but 
give a sense of the utmost firmness, with the least possible 
limitation or constraint. There is often a flowing grace 
and incvitablencss about them, fading gradually away and 
atar off, like the lines of the horizon. It is not the form 
of architecture, or of any exact diagrams, but the tally of 
trees, hills paths, etc., or the cadence of winds, or the 
rhythm of waves on a beach. 

In the grand literary relics of nations it may be observed 
that their best poetry has always spurned the routine poetic, 
and adopted essentially the prose form, preserving interior 
rhythm only. But it is to the future I leave the vast ques 
tion of the form of these poems. 

[" In literature the ascendancy of prose is always in direct 
ratio to the advance of the human spirit, and the clearing 
up of the intelligence. As a vehicle for the movement of 
ideas, it is far more adequate than poetry, and is therefore 
a better exponent of modern civilization. Substantially, the 
barriers between these two are already broken down, so 
that the terms poetry and prose no longer represent distinct 
circles of thought and emotion ; they also become assimilated 
in form and grammar in proportion as the sensuous life of 
language dies out, and the spiritual qualities predominate. 
Thus one of the most marked peculiarities of modern lan 
guages is what might be called their prose organization i. 
e., their prosody or metrical system is founded, not on 
quantity, but on accentuation, so that by this change the 
chief distinction between oratio vincta and oratio solute, as 


understood by the ancients, is lost ; and we may confidently 
look forward to the time when the fusion of these forms 
shall be rendered more complete by the abolition of that 
bondage of rhyming* which Milton condemns as the in 
vention of a barbarous age/ and Ben Jonson characterises as 
4 wresting words from their true calling. There is no good 
reason why the relative duration of successive syllables in 
time should have been insisted on as essential to poetry ; 
for we might with equal propriety follow the example of 
Simmias of Rhodes, and establish a canon that the lines 
should be of such length, and so arranged, that the finished 
poem would.prescnt to the eye the form of a heart, a battle- 
axe, an egg, * flute, or a phcenix. But the constant ten 
dency in human speech is to shake off these conventional 
shackles, in proportion as it frees itself from the dominion 
of the senses, and becomes an organ of revelation for the 
higher reflective faculties. The spiritualising and enfran 
chising influence of Christianity transformed Greek into an 
accentuated language; and Grimm has shown that the same 
process took place also in German, which originally made 
quantity, or the temporal value of the vowels, the basis of its 
prosodical system." ERNST VON LASAULX. Art. in N. 
A. Rfv.-] 


. I must not forget to note the continuously sustained at 
titude of LEAVES OP GRASS towards demonstrable science. 
It always fully and reverently acknowledges science, and 
the work of the scientist. 


"Thither, as I look, I see each result and glory retracing itself and nest 
ling close, always obligated; 


Thither hours, months, years thithrr trades, compact?, establishments, 

even the most minute; 

Thither c very-day life, speech, utensils, politics, persons, estates; 
Thither we also, I with my leaves and songs, trustful, admirant, 
As a father, to his father going, takes his children along with him.** 

Also these verses from his leading poem : 

"I accept reality, and dare not question itj 
Materialism first and last imbuing. 

Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration! 

Fetch stonccrop mixt with cedar and branches of lilac; 

This is the lexicographer thu the chemist this made a grammar of 

the old cartouches; 

These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas ; 
This is the geologist this works with the scalpel and this is a 


Gentlemen ! to you the first honors always : 

Your facts are useful and real and yet they arc not my dwelling; 

(I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.)** 


The poet himself, I understand, considers his work as 
still lacking in a part, or pieces, specially expressive of 
the religious aspirational elements, and, I believe, entertains 
the wish and design yet to write out such a part, or cluster 
of pieces, and thus complete his programme. Of course I 
do not object to this ; I should heartily welcome the new 
pieces. Yet I do not see the need of them, in order to 
complete LEAVES OF GRASS. Because, for the proper use 
of the religious elements in the traits of a character, namely, 
to leaven all the rest, and tinge the acts and speech, and the 
days of life and not for a separate and isolated thing, pro- 

, 72 

roulged by itself I find this by far the most religious book 
I ever met. It is the broad hymn of the praise of things ; 
all the works of the Creative Father are sung in joyous 
strains. An undercurrent of entire piety, sometimes buoy 
ant and credulous as a child s, sometimes rapt as any psalrr* 
of the Hebrew prophets; and sometimes showing the atti 
tude of science, in the midst of its explorations and attain 
ments, bowed down before the awfulncss and impcnctraMe- 
ness of the least fact, the least *aw, of the universe, runs 
through the poems, and never fla^s. Sec verses 26 to 32, 
inclusive, in Starting from Fisb-Sbape Paumunok; also verses 
5, 6, and 7, in Elemental Drifts. 

The book is eminently religious, because its distinctive 
trait is Humanity. When I realize the abysses of passionate 
love, and the many silent throes of brooding aspiration that 
underlie it, and out of which only it could have been 
written, I am inexpressibly awed before the thing, a human 
being, a Soul; and the capacity of literature to express that 
eternal marvel assumes in it new proportions. 


Of the future reception of the poem I feel no doubt. At 
present Walt Whitman, from his novelty alone, with his 
unprecedented vastness, his scorn of extrinsic ornament, 
etc., cannot be measured, cannot well be understood. He 
stretches into the future as other writers into the past, and 
is the most self-denying artist to the claims of immediate 
results and approbation that ever lived. A large portion 
of his poetry is made with reference to its effects upon his 
readers long after his own death. 

With him arc, however, the main tendencies of our era, 


and they must in due time justify him. At the present 
hour he has a limited circle of fervently appreciative readers. 
In a decade they will be counted by thousands; and in still 
another, a newer, younger race, growing up> will, as it were, 
be born to him. 

Then will be formed, as time advances, sufficient vista 
through which only this, or any grand work, can to advan 
tage be .seen. Then, Mirrounded by the associations of 
the |>ast, U* history, of a hero, a bard, become long 
since dead, will his most important maining* take their 
application. Then, in its effect on many a rapt brain, 
absorbing for example, the 141)1, 1 5th, and i6th atanzas of 
$o Lwtf t will the poem s true power appear: 

"Thii U no buck) 
Who touches tlii, touches ft man." 

Like Egypt s lord, he builds against his form s annihila 
tion. But what ore pyramids compared to one genuine 
throb of the passionate human soul? Fixed in the desert 
(if old Africa, the voiceless blocks yet stand, after six thou 
sand yearn, mocking, discarding him who piled them* But 
her: a vaster, subtler, more enduring mausoleum. Here, 
though dead, volition, speech, the same. 

Strange immortality I For in this book Walt Whitman, 
even in his habit as he lived, and ever gathering hearts of 
young and old, is to surely walk, untouched by death, down 
through the long succession of all the future ages of America. 




WALT WHITMAN was born in the farm village of West 
Hills, on Long Island, New York, May 31, 1819. His 
father s stock, which was of English immigration, seems to 
have originally settled there with the earliest planting of 
the island, some four or five generations previously. 

West Hills is about thirty miles from New York city. 
It is a secluded place, of much natural picturesqucncss. 
The hills indicated by its name are varied with fertile val 
leys. It is a neighborhood of thinly scattered country 
houses, with apple orchards, fields of grass and grain, and 
winding lanes lined with locust trees. Great springs of 
cold, sweet water curiously rise toward the tops of the hills, 
and their course down and along the lower grounds may be 
traced by the borders of extra richness and verdure. 

Some two or three miles off, near Cold Spring, Queen s 
county, from a farm-house on the side of another hill, a 
wild, romantic, and bleaker region, we find the mateinal 
source. Here lived the Van Velsors, of genuine Hollandic 
blood, and also an old family. Major Van Velsor had for 
his wife Amy Williams, descended from a race of mariners; 
her father and brothers, and grandfather s people too, all 
famous seagoing folk. From this couple came the mother 


of our poet. The Van Vclsors were noted people for 
horses. The Major always had a fine one, and his boys 
followed suit; and the poet s future mother was a daily 
and daring horse-rider, even as a girl. 

A description of these two families, and their domestic 
interiors, would be a sample of the life of the middle class 
of American country people of three generations since, in 
the early part of the century. Both sexes labored with 
their own hands. The Whitmans lived in a long story- 
and-a-half farm-house, hugely timbered, which is still stand 
ing. A great smoke-canopied kitchen, with vast hearth 
ml chimney, formed one end of the house. The existence 
of slavery in New York nt that time, nnd the possession by 
the family of some twelve or fifteen slaves, house and field 
servants, gave things quite a patriarchal look. The very 
young darkies could be seen, a swarm of them, toward 
sundown, in this kitchen, squatted in a circle on the floor, 
eating their supper of Indian pudding and milk. In the 
house, and in food and furniture, all was rude, but substan 
tial. No carpets nor stoves were known, and no coffee, 
and tea or sugar only for the women. Rousing wood fires 
gave both warmth and light on winter nights. Pork, 
poultry, beef, and all the ordinary vegetables and grains 
were plentiful. Cider was the men s common drink, and 
used at meals. The clothes were mainly homespun. 
Journeys were made by both men and women on horse 
back. Books were scarce. The annual copy of the 
Almanac was a treat, and was pored over throvgh the 
long winter evenings. 

I must not forget to mention thnt both these families 
were near enough to the sea to behold it from the high 


places, and to hear in still hours the roar of the surf; the 
latter, after a storm, giving a peculiar sound at night. 
Then all hands, male and female, went down frequently on 
beach and bathing parties, and the men on practical expe 
ditions for cutting salt hay, and for clamming and fishing. 
And so, out of such cmbryonagc, appear the parents and 
earliest childhood scenes of the poet the father Walter 
Whitman, and the mother Louisa Van Vclsor. 

From the immediate mother of the poet come, I think, 
his chief traits. She, with her good health and good sense, 
her kind and generous heart, cheerfulness, equanimity, her 
big family of sons and daughters, has now passed through a 
long and assiduous life, affording a sample of the perfect 
woman and mother. I have more than once heard Walt 
Whitman say that his views of humanity and of the female 
sex could never have been what they arc, if he had not had 
the practical proof of his mother and other noble women 
always before him. 

I should not neglect to put on record a statement, also, 
of the father of the poet, as a most honorable man, a good 
citizen, parent, and neighbor. He was a large, quiet, 
serious man, very kind to children and animals. For some 
years he was a farmer on his own land, but afterwards went 
into business, house-building and carpentering. 

I am not able, nor is it necessary, to give the particulars 
of the poet s youthful life. While a child, after living at 
the natal farm a brief time, his parents moved to Brooklyn, 
and he went to the public school there through certain 
years, yet every summer visiting the place of birth in the 
country again. Brooklyn, be it remembered, was a charm 
ing rural town at that time, far different from the huge and 
crowded city it now is. 


[Here is one item of his childhood: On the visit of 
General Lafayette to this country, in 1825, he came over 
to Brooklyn in state, and rode through the city. The 
children of the schools turned cut to join in the welcome. 
A;i edifice for a free public library for youths was just then 
commencing, and Lafayette consented to stop on his way 
und lay the corner-stone. . Numerous children arriving on 
the ground, where a huge irregular excavation for the 
building was already dug, surrounded with heaps of rough 
stone, several gentlemen assisted in lifting the children to 
safe or convenient spots to see the ceremony. Among the 
rest, I^afayettc, also helping the children, took up the five- 
year-old Walt Whitman, and pressing the child a moment 
to his breast, and giving him a kiss, handed him down to a 
safe spot in the excavation.] 


When a boy of thirteen he went to work in a printing 
office, and learned to set type. At sixteen and seventeen, I 
find him spending his summers in the country, and along 
the sea-side of the island, teaching country school, and 
" boarding round " among the families of his pupil i. From 
this field of employment he sent a short sketch or story to 
that once famous monthly the Democratic Revifto. The 
sketch made a hit, and was copied and commended widely. 
Other sketches and writings for the Review followed. 
Whitman left his country school-teaching and came to New 

For a few years he now seems to be a member of that 
light battalion of writers for the press who, with facile pen, 
con-pose tale, report, editorial, or what not, for pleasure 


and a living; a peculiar class, always to be found in any 
large city. Once in a while he appears at the political 
mass meetings as a speaker. He is on the Democratic side, 
at the time going for Van Buren for President, and, in due 
course, for Polk. He speaks in New York, and down on 
Long Island, where he is made much of. It is probable, 
however, that all is done with a view to exercise as largely 
as anything else. 

Through this period from 1837 to 1848 without en 
tering into particulars, it is enough to say that he sounded 
all expediences of life, with all their passions, pleasures, and 
abandonments. He was young, in perfect bodily condition, 
and had the city of New York and its ample opportunities 
around him. I trace this period in some of the poems in 
the Children of Adam t and occasionally in other parts of his 
book, including Calamus. Those who have met the poet 
of late years, and think of him only as the composed and 
gray-bearded man of the present, must not forget, in reading 
his LEAVES, those previous and more ardent stages of his 
career. Though of Walt Whitman it may be said that he 
is always young. 

I may mention here a characteristic, which, however, 
belongs n6t to this period alone. At all times he has liked 
well the society, of the class called " common people." He 
has gone much with such persons, for instance, as the New 
York bay pilots, the fishermen down Long Island, certain 
country farmers and city mechanics, and especially the 
Broadway stage-drivers. The latter class for years have 
adopted him as a special favorite and chum. He has ridden 
on top of the stages with them, ~ ?<; of an afternoon along 

Broadway, or from Fulton Ferry or Bowling Green up to 


Twenty-third street ; so noting and absorbing the life anJ 
objects or" his endeared " Mannahatta." He has often and 
often visited in and around the island all such places as the 
ship-yard*, the foundries, etc.; is fond of the public shows, 
and delights in those extra gala-days or distinguished recep 
tions when "million-footed Manhattan descends to her pave 

The artistic pleasure he has always most cared for is the 
Italian opera, or some good band or concert. Many pas 
sages of his poetry were composed in the gallery of the New 
York Academy during the opera performances. 


In 1 849 he began traveling. Passing down through 
Pennsylvania and Maryland, he crossed the Allcghanics, 
went aboard a small trading steamer at Wheeling, and by 
slow stages, and with many and long stoppages and detours, 
journeyed along and down the Ohio river. In the same 
manner, well pleased with western steamboat life and its 
scenes, he descended by degrees the Mississippi. In New 
Orleans he edited a newspaper, and lived there a year, when 
he again ascended the Mississippi to St. Louis; moved 
through that region, explored the Illinois river and the 
towns along its bank, and lingered some while in Wisconsin 
and among the great lakes; stopt north of the straits of 
Mackinaw, also at Niagara and in Canada. He saw West 
ern and Northwestern nature and character in all their 
phases, and probably took there and then the decided 
inspiration of his future poetry. 

After some tv/o years, returning to Brooklyn, I trace him 
again trying his hand at a printer s occupation. He started 


a newspaper, first as weekly and then as daily. He sold 
out, and went into business as carpenter and builder, (his 
father s trade ;) worked with his own hands at the rougher 
work, and built and sold moderate-priced houses. 

It is at this period (1853 and the seasons immediately 
following,) that I come on the first inkling of LEAVES OF 
GRASS. Walt Whitman is now thirty-four years old, and 
in the full fruition of health and physique. There is a lull 
or interval in his house-building business, so that he has no 
cares from that quarter. 

In 1855, then, after many manuscript doings and undo 
ings, and much matter destroyed, and two or three complete 
re-writings, the essential foundation of LEAVES OF GRASS was 
laid and the superstructure raised, in the piece Ailed IVals 
Whitman, and some nine or ten smaller pieces, forming the 
thin quarto or first edition. Indubitably there must have 
been, as Emerson says, "a long foreground somewhere" to 
this first quarto. But that foreground, that vast previous, 
ante-dating requirement of physical, moral, and emotional 
experiences, will forever remain untold. The history of 
the First publication, and also of the Second, Third, and 
Fourth growths, or issues, I have already narrated. 

Now follows the war. But I wish, before entering upon 
that, to give something like a personal description of the 
man who made LEAVES OF GRASS. 


In person Walt Whitman is much above the average size, 

with remarkably perfect physical proportions. 


A writer, Rev. Mr. Conway, in the London Fortnightly 


Review, describing a visit to him, and their spending a 
summer day together, says : 

"We passed the remainder of the day roaming, or * loafing,* on Staten 
Island, where we had shade, and many miles of a beautiful beach. 
While we bathed I was impressed by a certain grandeur about the man, 
and remembered the picture of Bacchus on the wall of his room. I then 
perceived that the sun had put a red mask on his face and neck, and that 
his body was a ruddy blonde, pure and noble, his form being at the same 
time remarkable for fine curves and for that grace of movement which is 
the flower of shapely and well-knit bones. His head was oviform in 
every way} his hair, which was strongly mixed with gray, was cut close 
to his head, and, with his beard, was in strange contrast to the almost 
infantine fullness and serenity of his face. This serenity, however, came 
from the quiet light blue eyes, and above these there were three or four 
deep horizontal furrows, which life had ploughed. The first glow of any 
kind that > saw about him was when he entered the water, which he 
fairly hugged with a lover s enthusiasm. But when he was talking about 
that which deeply interested him, his voice, always gentle and clear, 
became slow, and his eyelids had a tendency to decline over his eyes. It 
was impossible not to feel at every moment the reality of every word and 
movement of the man, and also the surprising delicacy of one who was 
even freer with his pen than honest Montaigne." 

Of his familiar figure and gait, as seen on the wide side 
walk of crowded Broadway, in his own city, of a fine 
afternoon or, of late years, on Pennsylvania avenue, in 
Washington I give the following easily-recognized por 
traiture. It is from a Washington letter, written by one 
himself a poet, and printed (February, 1866) in a Columbus, 
Ohio, periodical : 

"There are a few interesting persons here for whom you do not look, 
and you shall therefore come upon them unexpectedly. Walk up the 
Avenue at four o clock, for instance. Who is this that cometh as if 
breasting or blown by a strong, slow wind gigantic in expression at least, 


paternal, and (begging pardon of Apollo) somcwhaf Jove-like > This Is 
one of those you didn t expect to see, and you may as well look at him, 
for you cannot help it. Once (and, as you love and reverence that gentle 
father of our newer country, you may well bear this in reverent memory 
while you gaze,) Abraham Lincoln, seeing this one passing from his White 
House window, and following him with genial eyes, said, in that voice we 
all remember here Well, He looks like a MAN/" 

Yet those who entertain great expectations Walt Whitman 
will probably disappoint at first sight. I have known and 
seen him for years, under various surroundings, in company, 
on rambles, by the sick cots in the army hospitals, and else 
where; and I should describe him, off-hand, as a cheerful, 
rather quiet man, easily pleased with others, letting them 
do most of the talking, seeking not the least conquest or 
display, never exhibiting any depression of spirits, asking 
very few questions, and at first view making the impression 
on any unsuspecting stranger of a good-willed, healthy 
character, without the least ostensible mark of the philoso 
pher or the poet ; but all the while, though thus passive 
and receptive, yet evidently the most masculine of beings. 

Observed more closely, he suggests ideas as of the 
Beginners, the Adamic men. One notes the great strength 
of his face, of the fullest Greek pattern, and combining the 
quality of weight with that which soars and ascends; head 
high-domed and perfectly symmetrical, with no bulging of 
the forehead ; brows remarkably arching ; nose straight and 
broad, with a strong square bridge ; gray beard, in bushy 
fleeces or locks; florid countenance, well seamed; blue 
eyes, with very heavy projecting lids; and in physiognomy, 
as in his whole form withal, a certain cast of chivalry: 

Douglas ! Douglas ! tender and true." 


While not incapable, also, on due occasions, of measureless 
obstinacy and hauteur. 

eccentricity* of Walt Whitman, though it has 
been part of the material of many a paragraphist and maga 
zine writer for the last ten years, has not a particle of real 
foundation. The truth simply is, that as to " fashion " and 
all the mere fopperies and conventional trimmings, which 
American society is perhaps more the slave of than any 
European people, he quietly ignores them in his dress and 
demeanor, as will always any man of full physique and 
noble and independent nature. No essential, however, no 
universal law, nothing belonging to the gentleman in the 
true sense, does he ever ignore. "Far above oddity or 
quecrncss, I thin -c the verdict of every good observer, 
noticing him with attention, will finally be that, if anything 
makes him eccentric, it is because he, above all the rest, is 
so free from eccentricity. 

Of his manners I should say, the best statement of their 
dominant spirit, as exemplified by his life, is to be found in 
his own chant, Manhattan s Streets I Sauntered Pondering; 
but that beneath, and for its occasions, he has perceptive 
wisdom, or good Yankee shrewdness, also. 

It may be because everything in his personal appearance 
is so relentlessly averaged to the idea of a complete man, 
that strangers involuntarily ascribe to him all sorts of char- 
acters, according to their first impressions. I knew a lady 
who persisted in calling him " Doctor," and even consulting 
him professionally, without ever stopping to inquire about, 
and even after she had been told, the truth. During his 


services in the army hospitals, of which I shall presentlv 
speak, various myths were floating about concerning him. 
Now he was a benevolent Catholic priest then some un 
known army general, or retired sea captain; and at one 
time he was the owner of the whole Cunard line of steamers. 
To be taken for a Californian has been common. 

One remembers his own account of the poet of the 
Kosmos, as given in the Morning Romanza: 

"The authors take him for an author, and the artists for an artist, 
And the laborers perceive he could labor with them and love them; 
No matter what the work is, that he is the one to follow it, or has 

follow d it, 
No matter what the nation, that he might rind hit brothers and sisters 


The gentleman of perfect blood acknowledges his perfect blood ; 

The insulter, the prostitute, the angry person, the beggar, see them 
selves in the ways of him -he strangely transmutes them, 

They are not vile any more they hardly know themselves, they are 
so grown." 


There probably lives not another man so genuinlly and 
utterly indifferent to literary abuse, or to "public opinion," 
either when favorable or unfavorable. He has never used 
the usual means to defend his reputation. It has been his 
fate to have his book and his personal character atrociously 
intercepted from their due audience with the public, whose 
minds have been plied and preoccupied by detractions, and 
the meanest misrcports and falsehoods. 

In the midst of these I send forth my Notes, with an 
object, if I know my own mind, far different from mere 
eulogy. I am well aware, first, that no one volume, how- 


ever great or specially attractive to its admirers, monopolizes 
either intrinsic merit or formative beauty, but that of the 
first-class works in the world s literature, each is good, 
supremely good, after its kind, and is simply perfect as any 
can be perfect; and second, that my poet personally is, of 
course, but one of thousands of deserving men; and I know 
that he .would be the firt to laugh to derision any elevation 
of himself as exceptionally good. 

And now I proceed to an account of the attitude of Walt 
Whitman during the war. 


Soon after the opening of the war, I find him down in 
the field, making himself practically useful among the 
wounded. He was first drawn there on behalf of his 
brother, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Whitman, jist 
New York Veterans, who was hit in the face by a piece 
of shell at Frcdericksburgh. 

He commences service in 1862, supporting himself during 
the ensuing two or three years by correspondence with 
northern newspapers. I pick out from this quite extensive 
correspondence one or two long letters devoted to current 
narratives of the hospitals and wounded, and am able* from 
them, to give some direct glimpses into his life at this 
period. I make the following extract from a letter at 
Fredcricksburgh, the third or fourth day after the battle of 
the middle of December, 1862: 

"Spent a good part of the day in a large brick mansion, on the bank* 
of the Rappahannock, immediately opposite Frederic k^burgh. It is u*ed 
, as a hospital since the battle, and seems to have received only the worst 
Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of 


the house, I notice a hrap of amputated feet, Iep, Arms, hands, &c. t 
about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each 
covered with its brown woolen blanket, in the door-yard, toward the 
river, arc fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel 
staves or broken board, stuck in the dirt. (Most of these bodies were 
subsequently taken up and transported North to their friends.) 

"The house is quite crowded, everything impromptu, no system, all 
bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds 
pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and 
bloody. Some of the wounded are rebel officers, prisoners. One, a M u- 
Mssippian a captain hit badly in leg, I talked with some time; he 
asked me for papers, which I gave him. (I saw him three months 
afterward in Washington, with leg amputated, doing well.) 

14 1 went through the rooms, down stairs and up. Some of the men 
wr-r dying. I had nothing to give at that visit, but wrote a few letters 
to folks home, mothers, &c. Also talked to three or four, who teemed 
susceptible to it, and needing it." 

"Die. 12 TO 31. Am among the regimental, brigade, and division 
hospitals somewhat. Few at home realize that these are merely tcnti, 
and sometimes very poor ones, the wounded lying on the ground, lucky 
if their blanket is spread on a layer of pine or hemlock twigs, or some 
leaves. No cots; seldom even a mattress on the ground. It is pretty 
cold. I go around from one case to another. I do not see that I can do 
any good, but I cannot leave them. Once in .a while some youngster 
holds on to me convulsively, and I do what I can for him) at any rate, 
top with him and sit near him for hour*, if he wishes it. 

* Beside the hospitals, 1 also go occasionally on long tours through the 
camps, talking with the men, &c. Sometimes at night among the groups 
around the fires, in their shebang enclosures of bushes. I soon get 
acquainted anywhere in camp, with officers or men, and am always well 
used. Sometimes I go down on picket with the regiments 1 know best. * 

After continuing in front through the winter, he returns 
to Washington, where the wounded and sick have mainly 
been concentrated, The Capital City, truly, ii now one 


huge hospital ; and there Whitman establishes himself, and 
thenceforward, for several years, has but one daily and 
nightly avocation. 

I make the following excerpts from the narratives alluded 
to, as samples of his daily work : 

*My custom is to go through a ward, or collet tion of wards, endeavor 
ing to give some trifle to each, without misting any. Even a tweet bis 
cuit, a sheet of paper, or a passing word of friendliness, or but a look or 
nod, if no more. In this way I go among large numbers without 
delaying, yet do not hurry. I find out the general mood of the ward at 
the time; sometimes see that there is a heavy weight of lUtlessness pre 
vailing, and the whole ward wants cheering up. I, perhaps, read to the 
men, to break the spell; calling them around me, careful to sit away from 
the cot of any one who is very bad with sickness or wounds. ALo, I 
find out, by going through in this way, the cases that need special atten 
tion, and can then devote proper time to them. Of course, I am very 
cautious among the patients, in giving them food. I always confer with 
the doctor, or find out from the nurse or ward-master about a new c&se. 
But I soon get sufficiently familiar with what is to be avoided, and learn 
also to judge almost intuitively what is best.** 

" I buy, during the hot weather, boxes of oranges from time to time, 
and distribute them among the men; also preserved peaches and other 
fruits; also lemons and sugar, for lemonade. Tobacco is also much in 
demand. Large numbers of the men come up, as usual, without a cent 
of money. Through the assistance of friends in Brooklyn and Boston, I 
am again able to help many of those that fail in my way. It is only a 
mall sum :n each case, but it is much to them. As before, I go around 
daily and talk with the men, to cheer them up.** 

He alludes to writing letters by the bed-side, and says : 

""I do a good deal of this, of course, writing all kinds, including love- 
letters. Many sick and wounded soldiers have not written home to 
parents, brothers, sisters, and even wives, for one reason or another, for a 
long, long time. Some arc poor writers, some cannot get p..per and 


envelope* | many have an avcrrion to writing became they dread to worry 
the folks at home the fact* about them arc 10 ad to tell. I always 
encourage the men to write, and promptly write tor them." 

A glimpse of the scenes after Chancellorsvillc: 

"At I write this, in May, 1863, the wounded have begun to arrive 
from Hooker s command from bloody Clumcllorsville. 1 was down 
among the tint arrival*. The men in charge of them told me the bad 
cases were yet to come. If that is to, I pity them, for these are bad 
enough. You ought to tec the scene of the wounded arriving at the 
landing here foot of Sixth > rect at night. Two boat load* came about 
luli -pa: t seven last night. A little after eight, it rained a long and violent 
huwer. The poor, pale, helpless soldiers had been debarked, and lay 
around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere. The rain was, probably, 
grateful to them; at any rate they were exposed to it. 

"The few torches light up the spectacle. All around on the wharf, on 
the ground, out on side places, &c., the men are lying on blankets and 
old quilts, with the bloody rags bound round head;, arms, legs, Sec. The 
attendants are few, and at night few outsiders alsoonly a few hard- 
worked tun.- port Jtion men and drivers. (The wounded are getting to be 
common, and people grow callous.) The men, whatever their condition, 
lie there, and patiently wait till their turn comes to be taken up. Near by 
the ambulances are now arriving in clusters, and one after another is called 
to back up and take its load. Extreme cases arc sent off on stretchers. 
The men generally make little or no ado, whatever their sufferings. A 
few groans that cannot be repressed, and occasionally a scream of pain as 
they lift a man into the ambulance. 

"To-day, as I write, hundreds more are expected, and to-morrow and 
the next day more, and so on for many days." 

"The soldiers are nearly all young men, and far more American than 
is generally supposed I should say nine-tenths are native born. Among 
the arrivals from Chancellorsvillc I find a large proportion of Ohio, 
Indiana, and Illinois men. As usual, there are all sorts of wounds. 
Some of the men are fearfully burnt from the explosion of artillery cais 
sons. One ward has a long row of officers, some with ugly hurts. Yes- 


tcrday was, perhaps, worse than usual. Amputations are going on - the 
attendants are dressing woundi. As you pass by you must be on your 
guard where you look. I taw, the other day, a gentleman, % visitor, 
apparently from curiosity, in one of the wards, stop and turn a moment to 
look at an awful wound they were probing, ec. He turned pale, and in 
a moment more he had fainted away and fallen on the floor." 

An episode the death of a New York soldier : 

"This afternoon, July aa, 1863, 1 spent a long time with a young man 
I have been with a good deal from time to time, named Oscar F. Wither, 
company G, i 54-th New York, low with chronic diarrhcra, and a bad 
wound also. He asked me to read him a chapter in the New Testament. 
I complied, and asked him what I should read. He saidt Make your 
own choice.* 1 opened at the close of one of the first books of the Evan 
gelists, and read the chapters describing the latter hours of Christ and the 
cenes at the crucifixion. The poor, wasted young man asked me to read 
the following chapter also, how ChrLt rose again. I read vrry lgwly, for 
Oscar was feeble. It pleased him very much, yet the tears were in his 
eyes. He asked me if I enjoyed religion. I said : Perhaps not, my dear, 
in the way you mean, and yet, maybe, it is the same thing. He said : 
* It is my chief reliance. He talked of death, and said he did not fear it. 
I said i Why, Oscar, don t you think you will get well?* He saidt *I 
may, but it is not probable. He spoke calmly of his condition. The 
wound was very bad) it discharged much. Then the di.irrhrra had pros 
trated him, and I felt that he was e v en then the same as dying. He 
behaved very manly and affectionate. The kiss I gave him as I was 
bout leaving he returned fourfold. He gave me his mother s address, 
Mrs. Sally D. Wilber, Alleghany post-office, Cattaraugus county, New York. 
I had several such interviews with him. He died a few days after the 
one just described." 

And here also a chnractcriitlc iccnc In another of those 
long barracks : 

"It Is Sunday afternoon, (middle of summer, 1864,) hot and oppressive, 
and very silent through the ward, 1 am taking care of a critical case, 


n .w lylnj in a half Inlurjry. Near win re I iit L a rufiering rebel, from 
the Htft Loui i.n.i; his name u Irving. He has been here a long time, 
badly wounled, and has lately hal his leg amputated. It is not doing 
very veil. Right opposite me is a bL k roldicr boy, laid down with his 
clothes on, sleeping, l x>king much wasted, hii pallid face on his arm. I see 
by the yell jw trimming on his jacket that he is a cavalry boy. He looks so 
hanJtiome as he sleeps, one must needs go nearer to him. I step softly 
over to him, and find by his card that he is named William Cone, of the 
1st Maine cavalry, and his folks live in Skowhcgan." 

Mr. Whitman spends the winter of 1863-4 
army at Brandy Station and Culpepper, Virginia, among the 
brigade and division hospitals, moving in the same scenes 
and performing similar work. 

The following summer, the bloody holocaust of the 
Wilderness, and the fierce promenade down to the James 
river, give him plenty to do, and he docs it well, until he 
himself is prostrated.* Bjt I cannot follow him in the 
details of this career. Thcv would fill a volume. 

* In the hot summer of 1864, Whitman, who up to that period had 
been the picture of health and strong, unsurpassed physique, was taken 
down with an illness which, although he recovered from it, has left effects 
upon him to this day. He was nurse at the time to a number of soldiers, 
badly wounded in the late battles, and whose wounds, from previous en 
forced neglect and the intense heat of the weather, were mortified, and 
several corrupted with worms. He remained assiduously night and da/ 
with these lamentable cases. The consequence was that his system, 
doubtless weakened by anxiety, became deeply saturated with the worst 
poison of hospital malaria. He was ordered north by the physicians; an 
illness of six months followed, the first sickness in his life. 

In February, 1865, wishing to return to the field of his labors, in 
Washington, he received from the then head of the Department of the 
Interior an appointment to a clerkship. This gave him leisure for hospital 
vis .ts, and secured him an income. He performed his clerical work well, 
and was promoted. He was now dividing his leisure hours between services 
to the wounded and in composing the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, 
Lilact Laa in the Door-yard Bloomed" It was at ihU juncture 


[An army surgeon who at the time watched with curi. 
osity Mr. Whitman s movements among the soldiers in the 
hospitals has since told me that his principles of operation, 
effective as they were, seemed strangely few, simple, and 
on a low key : to act upon the appetite, to cheer by a 
healthy and fitly bracing appearance and demeanor, and to 
fill and satisfy, in certain cases, the aftectional longings of 
the patients, was about all. He carried among them no 
scntimentalism nor moralizing; spoke not to any man of 
his "sins"; but gave something good to cat, a buoying 
word, or a trifling gift and a look. He appeared with 
ruddy face, clean dress, with a flower or a green sprig in 
the lappet of his coat. Crossing the fields in summer he 
would gather a great bunch of dandelion blossoms, and red 
and white clover, to bring and scatter on the cots, as re 
minders of out-door air and sunshine. 

When practicable, he came to the long and crowded 
wards of the maimed, the feeble, and the dying, only after 
preparations as for a festival strengthened by a good meal, 
rest, the bath, and fresh underclothes. He entered with a 
huge haversack slung over his shoulder, full of appropriate 

that a new Secretary, Hon. James Marian, luJdcnly removed him from 
his tituation, for the reason that "he was the author of LKAVKJ or (JRAM." 
The circumstancca are far more brutal ami infumoui than it generally 
known. An eminent person, intimate with Mr. Marian, went to itim, 
and in a long interview thoroughly proved Walt Whitman 1 , pertonal 
character, and the theory and intention*, at least, of his hook. H.trlan, 
in reply, merely said that the author of LEAVKI or GRASS should never be 
allowed in his department. 

Immediately on thu occurrence, (July, 1865,) Mr. Whitmin was lent 
for by a diuinguuhcd cabinet officer, and ottered a place at hi* disposal, 
under Government, of moderate pay, but an honorable position. Thu h 
accepted, and has continued to occupy tlnce. 


articles, with parcels under his arms, and protuberant 
pockets. He would sometimes come in summer with a 
good-fci/cd basket, filled with oranges, and would go round 
fur hours paring and dividing them among the feverish and 


I would say to the reader that I have dwelt upon this 
portion of Walt Whitman*s life, not so much because it 
enters into the statement of his biography, a* because it 
really enters into the statement of his poetry, and affords a 
light through which alone the later pieces, and in some sort 
the whole of his work can be fitly construed. His large, 
oceanic nature doubtless enjoyed fully, and grew all the 
larger from, the pouring out of its powerful currents of 
magnetism; and this is evident in his pieces since 1861. 

The statement is also needed with reference to the coun 
try, for it rises to national proportions. To more than a 
hundred thousand suffering soldiers was he, during the war, 
personally the cheering visitor, and ministered in some form 
to their direct needs of body and spirit; soldiers from every 
quarter, west, cast, north, and south for he treated the 
rebel wounded the same as the rest. 

Of course there were plenty of others, men and women, 
who engaged faithfully in the same service. But it is 
probable that no other was so endowed for it as Walt 
Whitman. I should say his whole character culminates 
here ; and, as a country is best viewed by ascending some 
peak, so from this point his life and book arc to be read and 

Since the close of the war he has continued his ministnu 


tions among the sick and wounded just the name, down to 
the present time, (March, 1867.) Every Sunday find* him 
at .the hospital, and he frequently goes there during the 
week. For the maimed and the infirm of the war we have 
yet among us, in many a dreary case, and the wounds of the 
contest are still unhealcd. 

DRUM -T A P s 

OUT of that experience in camp and hospital the pieces 
called DRUM-TAPS were produced. Their descriptions 
and pictures, therefore, come from life. The vivid inci 
dents of Tie Dresser arc but daguerreotypes of the poet s 
own actual movements among the bad cases of the wounded 
after a battle. The same personal knowledge runs through 
jl Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Grey and Dim; Come Up 
from the Fields, Father, etc., etc. 

The reader of DRUM-TAPS soon discovers that it is not 
the purpose of the poet to portray battles and campaigns, 
or to celebrate special leaders or military prowess, but 
rather to chant the human aspects of anguish that follow in 
the train of war. He perhaps feels that the permanent 
condition of modern society is that of peace; that war, as 
a business, as a means of growth, has served its time, and 
that, notwithstanding the vast difference between ancient 
and modern warfare, both in the spirit and in the means, 
Homer s pictures are essentially true yet, and no additions 
to them can be made. War can never be to us what it has 
been to the nations of all ages down to the present; never 
the main fact the paramount condition, tyrannizing over 
all the affairs of national and individual life; but only an 


episode, a passing interruption ; and the poet who in our 
day would be as true to his nation and times as Homer was 
to his, must treat of it from the standpoint of peace and 
progress, and even benevolence. Vast armies rise up in a 
night, and disappear in a day a million of men, inured 
to battle and to blood, go back to the avocations of psacc 
without a moment s confusion or delay indicating clearly 
the tendency that prevails. Hence those readers who, 
from the turbulent and audacious spirit of LEAVES OF GRASS, 
expected to find in this little volume all the " pomp and 
circumstance of glorious war," have been disappointed. 

Apostrophizing the genius of America in the supreme 
hour of victory, he says: 

"No poem proud, I, chanting, bring to thce nor mastery s rapturous 

verse } 
But a little book containing night s darkness and blood-dripping 

And psalms of the dead. * 

The collection is also remarkable for the absence of all 
sectional or partisan feeling. Under the head of Reconcilia 
tion are these lines : 

" Word over all, beautiful as the sky ! 
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly 

That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly, softly wash 

again, and ever again, this soil d world; 

. . . For my enemy is dead a man divine as myself is dead j 
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin I draw near; 
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the 


But I am anticipating. 

The collection opens with a piece descriptive of the 
sudden and general uprising of the people of the Northern 
States when the national flag was fired on at Fort Sumter. 
It specially describes the electric scene that followed in 
New York city, and has the effect of a sudden determined 

The Banner at Daybreak contains a slight dramatic plot, 
in which figure a father and his child and the poet. The 
general spirit of the dialogue is that of intense devotion to 
-the national flag: 

"Not houses of peace are you, nor any nor all their prosperity, (if need 
be, you shall have every one of those houses to destroy them; 

You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, standing fast, full of 
comfort, built with money; 

May they stand fast, then ? Not an hour, unless you, above them and 
all, stand fast!)" 

The Centenarian s Story, also slightly dramatic, is a tra 
dition of the battle of Long Island, at the commencement 
of the Revolutionary War. Pioneers! O Pioneers! is a 
measured chant and refrain, in which the masses of the 
West and the great Territories seem to be marching in 
procession, uttering a characteristic recitative. It has the 
sense of steady, irresistible motion and vastncss. I consider 
it one of the choicest of his lyrics. Rise O Days from Tour 
Fathomless Deeps, and Tears of tbc Unperformed, are samples 
of how much meaning and power can be put into words; 
each line of these pieces seems to stagger under the piled-up 
weight it carries. Indeed the former of the two is an un 
equalled study in phrasing. Its Herculean lines move on 
as if the elemental displays and throes of the globe were 
working in a chant. 


A Broadway Pageant (a sort of episode of which there 
are two or three in the book) records, or rather branches 
out from, the visit of the Japanese embassy at New York, 
in 1 860. It is full of flowing pictures, and forms a curious 
blending of the subjective and objective. 

"The Originatress comes, 

The land of Paradise land of the Caucasus the nest of birth, 
The nr*t of languages, the bequcather of poems, the race of eld, 
Florid with blood, pensive, rapt with musing, hot with passion, 
Sultry with perfume, with ample and flowing garments, 
With sunburnt visage, with intense soul and glittering eyes, 
The race of Brahma comes!" 

Then there are through the collection many small pieces, 
each full of its own pulsation. Here is one of those throb 
bing sonatas: 

* Bathed in wor i perfume delicate flag ! 
O to hear you call the sailors and the soldiers! flag like a beautiful 

woman ! 
O to hear the tramp, tramp, of a million answering men! O the shtpt 

they arm with joy ! 

O to see you leap and beckon from the tall masts of ships 
O to see you peering down on the sailors on the decks! 
Flag like the eyes of women.** 

There are numerous genre sketches, mostly of camp life, 
the bivouac, the moon pouring floods of silver on the 
battle-field, etc. Then in the SEQUEL TO DRUM-TAPS a 
piece of importance which needs to be specially analyzed. 


The assassination of President Lincoln made a very deep 
and painful impression upon the poet, who had formed a 
personal attachment to the President, regarding him as by 


fcu the noblest and purest of the political characters of the 
time ; and, beyond that, as a sort of representative historical 
American man. 

Although DRUM-TAPS had been finished, as supposed, 
and a few copies bound, the author, on the death of Mr. 
Lincoln, determined to revoke them and hold the book 
back awhile. In a few weeks thereafter, when more com 
posed, he planned out and began the construction of that, 
in some respects, most remarkable of all his chants, When 
Lilacs La e t in the Door-yard Bloomed. When it was con 
cluded he added O Captain* My Captain, and a few other- 
pieces, and joining them to the previous collection, under the 
title of a SEQUEL TO DRUM-TAPS, issued both groups entire, 
as his lyrical expression of the war, fitly culminating in the 
piece, " IVbtn Lilacs last" &c., as the epical close of that 
dark theme. 

The main effect of this poem is of strong solemn and 
varied music; and it involves in its construction a principle 
after which perhaps the great composers most work 
namely, spiritual auricular analogy. At first it would seem 
to defy analysis, so rapt is it, and so indirect. No reference 
whatever is made to the mere facts of Lincoln s death ; the 
poet docs not even dwell upon its unprovoked atrocity, and 
only occasionally is the tone that of lamentation ; but, with 
the intuitions of the grand art, which is the most complex 
when it seems most simple, he seizes upon three beautiful 
facts of Nature, which he weaves into a wreath for the 
dead President s tomb. The central thought is of death, 
but around this he curiously twines, first the early blooming 
lilacs which the poet may have plucked the day the dark 
shadow came ; next the song of the hermit thrush, the most 


sweet and solemn of all our songsters, heard at twilight in 
the dusky cedars r and with these the evening star, which, 
as many may remember, night after night in the early part 
of that eventful spring, hung low in the west with unusual 
and tender brightness. These are the premises whence he 
starts his solemn chant. 

The attitude, therefore, is not that of being bowed down 
and weeping hopeless tears, but of singing a commemorative 
hymn, in which the voices of Nature join, and fits that ex 
alted condition of the soul which serious events and the 
presence of death induce. There arc no words tf mere 
^eulogy, no statistics, and no story or narrative; out there 
are pictures, processions, and a strange mingling of darkness 
and light, of grief and triumph; now the voice of the bird, 
or the drooping lustrous star, or the sombre thought of 
death ; then a recurrence to the open scenery of the land 
as it lay in the April light, "the summer approaching with 
richness and the fields all busy with labor," presently 
dashed in upon by a spectral vision of armies with torn and 
bloody battle-flags and again, of the white skeletons of 
young men long afterward strewing the ground. Hence 
the piece has little or nothing of the character of the usual 
productions on such occasions. It is dramatic; yet there is 
no development of plot, but a constant interplay, a turning 
and returning of images and sentiments. 

The poet breaks a sprig of lilac from the bush in the 
door-yard the dark cloud falls on the land the long 
funeral sets out and then the apostrophe: 

* Coffin that passes through lanes and streets, 
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land, 
With the pomp of the inloopM flags, with the cities draped in black, 
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veiled women, 
i landing, 


With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night, 
With the countless torches lit with the silent sea of faces, and the 

unbaird heads, 

With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces, 
With dirges through the nigiit, with the thousand voices ruing strong 

and solemn j 

With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pourM around the coffin, 
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs Where amid these 

you journey, 

With the tolling, tolling bells perpetual clang j 
Here! coffin that slowly passes, 
I give you my sprig of lilac. 

(Nor for you, for one alone; 

Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring ; 
For fresh as the morning thus would I chant a song for you, O sane 
and sacred death. * 

All over bouquets of roses, 

O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies; 

But mostly an J now the lilac that blooms the first, 

Copious, I break, 1 break the sprigs from the bushes; 

With loaded arms I come, pouring for you, 

For you and the coffins all of you, O death.) * 

Then the strain goes on: 

"O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved? 
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? 
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love? 

Sea-winds, blown from east and west, 

Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there 

on the prairies meeting: 

These, and with these, and the breath of my chant, 
I perfume die grave of him I love." * 

The poem reaches, perhaps, its height in the matchless 
invocation to Death: 


"Come, lovely and toothing Death, 
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, 
In the djy, in the night, to all, to each, 

Sooner or later, delicate Death. 

Prais*d be the fathomless universe, 
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge carious; 
And for love, sweet love but praise ! O praise and praise, 
For the sure-en win Jing arms of cool-enfolding Death. 

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet, 
Have none chanted for thce a chant of fullest welcome? 
Then 1 chant it for thee I glorify thee above all; 
1 bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalter 

Approach, encompassing Death strong Deliveress! 
When it is so when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead, 
Lost in the loving, floating ocf an of thee, 
Laved in the blood of thy blus, O Death. 

From me to thee glad serenades, 

Dances for thce I propose, saluting thee- adornments and feastings for 

And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky are 

And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night. 

The night, in silence, under many a star; 

The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know; 

And the soul turning to thee, O vast and wcll-veil d Death, 

And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.** 


Leaving this most remarkable piece, and leaving much 
else in the book that might be elaborated, the dominant 
character of DRUM-TAPS, to my apprehension, resides in 
that part of the spirit pervading the whole, which is shown 


more definitely in such pieces as Vigil Strange I Kept on the 
Field One Night; A March in the Ranks, bard-pressed; As 
Toilsome I Wandered 1 irginia s Woods; the Dirge for Two 
I ctcrans; the Hymn of Dead Soldiers; A Sight in Camp in 
the Daybreak Grey and Dim; and Pensive I Heard the 
Mother of AIL This last piece I cannot refrain from 
quoting, as in it is contained the characteristic purport I 
have alluded to: 

M lVn>Jvr, >n her drad gazing, I hrnrl the Mother of All, 
l>e.pcratc, on the torn budie*, on tlic forms covering the battle-field* 

gazing : 

As r!>c tall d to her ctrth \viih mournful voice while the stalk di 
Al> rb tiif-m well, () my c.irth, hc cricil I ch.irjje you, loe not my 

. n ! I- e iv t ,\\\ .; tp j 

And you ktrc.irm, absorb them well, taking their l>!KxJ j 
And you local spots, and you airt that iwim above lightly, 
And all you earners of toil and growth and you, O my riven* depths; 
And you mountain tide* and the woodi where my dear children s 

blood, trickling, rcdden d; 

And you trees, down in your roots, to bequeath to all future trcci, 
My dead absorb my young men s beautiful bodies absorb and their 

prrcioui, precious, precious blood} 
Which holding in trust for me, faithfully back again give me, many a 

year hrnce, 

In umeen mcnre and odor of surr ace and grass, centuries hence; 
In blowing .iir from the fields, back again give me my darlings give 

my immortal heroes; 
Exhale me them centuries hence breathe me their breath let not an 

atom be lost; 

O years and graves! O air and coil! O my dead, an aroma sweet ! 
Exhale them perennial, sweet death, yearn, centuries hence, * pieces, putting in furm that nighc*t and widest, yet 
unwritten, part of the war necessarily passing away with 


the present generation, but immeasurably precious as a 
reminiscence to all future generations the quality and fresh 
earnestness of the million volunteers of 1861 5, from 
the families of the common people, with their youth, their 
general personal health and beauty the fact that they were 
mainly farmers sons of pure American stock followed by 
the appaling number of their deaths in battle and from ex 
ertion and exposure those myriad unknown deaths and 
burials, many never identified, but here chanted in a strain 
of sadness, yet exultation, that will live while the land has 
memory these, I say, form the crowning trait of this im 
portant part of Walt Whitman s works. 

Indeed I venture to predict that what is here contributed 
in DRUM-TAPS will gradually and in due time come to be 
accepted as the vital and distinguishing memento through 
literature of the late war, and its strongest tic with the ages 
to come. Those ages will leave the volumes of the histo 
rian and the mountains of official reports, and all the details 
of military tactics and manoeuvres, and will dwell with 
emotion amid what this man, from his deepest heart, and 
out of the sight of his own eyes, has sung of that terrible 

No other opportunity but a vast and ensanguined war, 
and a personal movement in it, like Walt Whitman s, as 
consoler, confidant, and most loving support to hundreds 
, of wounded and dying men, most of them very young, 
could have drawn, in that unprecedented manner, on the 
soul, for sympathy and pity. But his soul met these de 
mands, and fully responded to them. Nor has poetry, nor 
has art in any of its departments, ever received, and stamped 
in an enduring form, such tenderness for suffering, such 

107 love, such human adhesion to human sons and 
brethren, to close, o untiring, u* arc by this man put in 
DRUM-TAPS. The mere literary part of their construction, 
admirable ns It is, ninki comparatively into nothing. A 
new emergency is met by a new support, its equal. Hymns 
and rapt psalms of battle and death chant themselves not to 
(he ear or intellect, neither of which can help ut now, but 
to -.he highest perennial quality of the spirit. In the midst 
of the wailing is the tone of the triumphal. The heart 
blccd.> ttrangc, sad, yet singularly blissful drops. Out of the 
fearful over whelming facts of the anguish, the maiming, and 
the mutilation out of sights of fields of blackening corpses 
our own brothers , children s, well-known friends , most 
unnatural deaths, we arc made to rise, as if by the force of 
heavenly spells, by a capacity that had lain slumbering un 
suspected within us, for such an immense exigency, to moods 
of the absolute, the universal, the ecstatic. 

Yet all so common, so near! The great truth that the 
men :n the ranks were the real heroes of the war that 
they bore the heat and burden, and won the prize is the 
marrow of the poems. Above all, he sings the lost. Each 
of those heroes, though dead and unnamed, has here his fit 
memorial. The young saltling from bleak Cape Cod, the 
Philadelphia machinist, the farmer s son of Michigan or 
Illinois or Ohio each sent down by fate to the black 
mystery of dreaded death for each the mother s, sister s 
tears, the family dismay for each the hurried trench upon 
the field at night by truce permitted; yet here, by this 
man s art, from the trench raised, redeemed, bathed with a 
love, a brightness warmer and clearer than the sun s with 
monument for every one as high, as strong as poesy can 


ever build ! Such for the dead volunteer such from Walt 
Whitman for the fallen soldier of the ranks, the unknown 
demigod, the ardent boy of 1861 and- 2 and 3! 

Sure as the ages roll, America will not forget this service. 
Sweeter and deeper, as time continues, will these powerful 
songs approve themselves, and the precious wealth, the 
country s own, richer than California s gold, deposited in 
them. And when the angry. hatreds of the struggle shall 
have passed away and become altogether forgotten when 
our nation, thoroughly fused, and after a long career, forms 
really a history for itself and when the vcncrablcncss of 
time, and of more than one generation, shall have furnished 
a retrospective vista through which these pieces can be 
gazed on, and read, and felt, to the fathom of themselves 
I see how the quality resident in them, looming through 
the haze of the past, full of the inexpressible associations 
of that strange, sad war, will have effects on such American, 
Southern or Northern, who reads, or hears them read, as 
never yet have been surpassed by bard, or work of art, on 

Join, *7I. 


NEARLY five years have elapsed since the foregoing Notes 
were put to press, bringing their statements down to the lat 
ter part of 1866. The current year, 1871, introduces a 
still newer and fuller edition of Walt Whitman s poetry, 
and also a prose essay, DEMOCRATIC VISTAS, in pamphlet 
form, on critical, literary, and political topics. I have the 
author s express authority for averring that this, the fifth 
edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, is the final one. In it the con 
secutive order is changed and improved from the volume of 
1866-7 which had formed the basis of the preceding essay ; 
yet the new one seems to me so essentially the same, as far 
as it includes the old pieces, the trunk of the book, that 
after a careful examination I reiterate and apply the pre 
vious Notes, as far as they go, to this last and permanent 
edition of 1871-2. 

LEAVES OF GRASS now open with several pages, of In 
scriptions, instead of the single piece copied on page 23 of 
these Notes, which is altered somewhat, but most of it re 
tained. The Inscriptions form a regular and varied over 
ture, of which the last or closing passage apostrophizes the 
cause of Liberty or progress : 

Thou orb of many orbs ! 

Thou seething principle ! Thou well-kept, latent germ ! Thou centre ! 

Around the idea of thee the strange sad v/ar revolving, 

With all its angry and vehement play of causes, 

(With yet unknown results to come, for thrice a thousand yean,) 

These recitatives for thee my Book and the War are one, 

Merged in its spirit I and mine as the contest hinged on thee, 

A a wheel on its axis turns, this B<x k, unwitting to itself, 

Around the Idea of thee. 


And in several other poems the idea that the late Seces 
sion War furnishes the historical basis or event on which 
the whole work stands is in like manner presented. 

All ihc old clusters and single pieces, Starting from Pau- 
manok, IPa/t If bit man > Children of Adam, Calamus, Salut 
an MoftJf, Tit Unad-Axe, Tie Of>fn Read, Son?, of Offu* 
pat ions t Drum-Taps, Blue Ontario t Shre, Pioneers, Songs 
of Parting, &c., &c., arc duly marshaled here, with some 
new combinations, Bathed in War*! Perfume, Songs cf 
Inturredhn, intcrpersed every now and then with lesser or 
larger collections of Leaves of Grass. 


The additional section or cluster, PASSAGE TO INDIA, 
takes its name from the leading piece. On the title-page 
are these lines: 

Gliding o er all, through all, 
Through Nature, Time, and Space, 
At a Ship on the waten advancing, 
The Voyage of the Soul not Life alone, 
Death many Death*, I ling. 

The opening piece itself, Passage to India, combining the 
qualities of lyric, epic, and hymn, takes for its basis the 
facts of exploration and the principal modern engineering 
works, the electric telegraph, the Suez canal, and the Pacific 
railroad, and celebrates that immemorial search after the 
route to India which has played a leading part in history, 
and caused the discovery of America. 

A worihip new, I lingj 

You captains, voyagers, explorer*, youn ! 

You engineer! ! you architect*, machinitti, youn I 

You, not for trade or transportation only, 

Dut in Ood i name, and for thy take, O tout, 

But while chanting there, the poet demands and this is 
his real purport an exploration, a voyage toward another 


India, the metaphysical one, the mother of transcendental 
ism, and source of Bibles : 

Passage indeed, O soul, to primal thought ! 
Not lands and seas alone thy own clear freshness, 
The young maturity of brood and bloom ; 
; To realms of budding bibles. 

O soul, repressless, I with thee, and thou with me, 

Thy circumnavigation of the world begin ; 

Of man, the voyage of his mind s return, 

To reason s early paradise, 

Back, back to wisdom s birth, to innocent intuitions, 

Again with fair Creation. 

In the latter part of the piece arc several stanzas apos 
trophizing Deity, in figures entirely new to European the 
ology : 

Reckoning ahead, O soul, when thou, the time achiev d, 
(The seas all cross *d, weather d the capes, the voyage done,) 
Surrounded, copest, frontest God, yieldest, the aim attained, 
As, lili d with friendship, love complete, the Elder Brother found, 
The Younger melts in fondness in his arms. 

Then follow various distinct collections or pieces, di 
rectly or indirectly relating to Death : Proud Music of tbf 
Storm, Ashes of Soldier s, President Lincoln s Burial Hymn, 
Poem of Joys, the Square Deifc, Whispers of Heavenly Death, 
Sea-Shore Memories, some Leaves of Grass, ending with a 
little collection called Finale to the Shore. 

The amount of the author s design in this crowning part 
or collection as a whole, is perhaps conveyed by these lines : 

Through Space and Time fused in a chant, and the flowing, eternal 

To Nature, encompassing these, encompassing God to the joyous elec 
tric All. 

To the sense of Death- and accepting, exulting in Death, in its turn, the 
same as lifts, 

The entrance of Man I sing. 

In other words, the entire volume, as it now stands, with 


the pieces of PASSAGE TO INDA included, is an expression, 
more decidedly than before, of that combination in which 
Death and the Unknown are as essential and important to 
the author s plan of a complete human Personality as Life 
and the Known. 


There is probably no analogous case in the history of lit 
erature where the result of a profound artistic plan or con 
ception first launched forth, and briefly, yet sufficiency 
exemplified, as in the small volume of the LEAVES of 1855, 
taking for foundation Man in his fulness of blood, power, 
amativeness, health, physique, and as standing in the midst 
of the objective world a plan so steadily adhered to, yet 
so audaciously and freely built out of and upon, and with 
such epic consistency, after that start of 185$, developed in 
57, *6o, and 66, in successive moral, esthetic, and religious 
stage*, each absorbing the previous ones, but striding on far 
ahead of them gradually made more and more emotional, 
meditative, patriotic vitalized, heated to almost unbearable 
fervency by the author s personal part in the war, compos 
ing his songs of it in actual contact with its subjects, on the 
very field, or surrounded by the wounded " after the battle 
brought in " chanting undismayed the strong chant of the 
Inseparable Union, amid the vehement crises and stormy 
dangers of the period ; and so gradually arriving at the com 
pleted book of 1871-2, and crowning all in it with the 
electric and solemn poems of death and immortality has 
so justified, and beyond measure justified, its first ambitious 
plan and promise.* 

* Yet a very high authority perhaps the highest literary authority of 
the land would appear to hold a different opinion. The first and partial 
appearance of LEAVES or GRASS, in 1855, brought out the following let 
ter, alluded to on pages 16 and 19, preceding. I find it on file in the N. 
T. Tribune of that period : 

CONCORD, MASS., July 21, 1855. 

DEAR SIR I am not blind to the worth of the vonderful gift of 


The history of the book, thus considered, not only re 
sembles and tallies, in certain respects, the development of 
the great System of Idealistic Philosophy in Germany, by 
the " illustrious four " except that the development of 
LEAVES OF GRASS has been carried on within the region of 
a single mind, but it is to be demonstrated, by study and 
comparison, that the same theory of the essential identity 
of the spiritual and material worlds, the shows of nature, the 
progress of civilization, the play of passions, the human in 
tellect, and the relations between it and the concrete uni 
verse, which Kant prepared the way for, and Fichte, Schel- 
ling, and Hegel have given expression and statement in 
their system of transcendental Metaphysics this author 

LEAVES or GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and 
wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading 
it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always 
making of what seemed the sterile and stingy Nature, as if too much 
handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our 
Western wits fat and mean. 

1 give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. 
I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I 
find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large per 
ception only can inspire. 

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had 
a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little 
to see if this sunbeam were no illusion ; but the solid sense of the book 
is a sober certainty. It has the best merits ; namely, of fortifying and en 

I did not know, until I last night saw the book advertised in a newt- 
paper, that I could trust the name as real and available for a postofficc. 
1 wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much like striking my tasks and 
visiting New York to pay you my respects. 


Per contra. I read in the current journals January, 1871 reports 
of a lecture delivered at Detroit, Michigan, in which Mr. Emerson is re 
ported to have said : 

Walt Whitman in hu first effort* gave very high promise, but he ha* 
not fulfilled it since.** 

It will be for the future to decide which of theie if the lasting judg 
ment and more acute criticism. 


has, with equal entirety, expressed and stated in LEAVES OP 
GRASS, from a poet s point of view singing afresh, out of 
it, the song of the visible and invisible worlds- renewing, 
reconstructing, consistently with the modern genius, and 
deeper and wider than ever, the promises of immortality 
endowing the elements of faith and pride with a vigor and 
entemble before unknown and furnishing to the measure 
less audience of humanity the only great Imaginative Work 
it yet possesses, in which the objective universe and Man, 
his soul, are observed and outlined, and the theory of Hu 
man Personality and Character projected, from the ante 
rior and hidden, but absolute background, of that magnificent 
System. For as Walt Whitman now unfolds his full design, 
it is clear that after his enormous materialism, his amative- 
ness, and his intense realistic qualities, and his advancing 
over everything else, as we supposed, of the animal body 
and its appetites, he uses them mainly as doors or founda 
tions for something else, and is finally the poet of the abso 
luteness of Spirit. 

" There is nothing but Immortality, 
The exquisite scheme is all for it; 
And Life and Death are for it." 

Is it to be wondered at that he is not understood when 
read as other books are read ? In the usual sense, he has 
no plot ; but in the largest sense he includes all plots. 
While the objects and events of the universe, as affecting 
the human spirit and identity, arc treated by other writers 
from absolute standards, they are invariably treated by him 
as only relative and evanescent, and on the theory that 

" The real something has yet to be known." 

He sings always spiritual elevations. The boot-black, 
the beggar, the old woman, whom other writers mention 
most in irony or burlesque, he sees as immortal souls, and in 
cludes them in his poems. Depicting Man under passional, 
corporeal, and scientific conditions, and with an exhaustless 


wealth of illustration from the shows, forms, colors, identi 
ties, of the objective world, his chief characteristics of 
treatment, an unprecedented iftidhcsjveness > and Sublimity, 
mainly with reference to the future, envelop all his dif 
ferent parts like light, and comprehend and bind them into 
a whole. With his copiou.^ness and luxuriance, and his 
endless processions, no other port is so severe; with vastest 
complications, none else is so simple. Tropes, conceits, he 
never uses. His incidents are few, though when and 
wherever brought in they tell like ordnance in battle. He 
always produces or suggests dilation ; seldom the limited ; 
never the petty. As Johnson said of Milton : "His genius 
can hew a colossus out of a rock, but cannot carve heads 
on cherry-stones." 

The Book, in all respects, as completed, is peculiarly the 
song of this Nineteenth Century of ours the most import 
ant period, perhaps, in known history. It is true the rapid 
and manifold advances, improvements, discoveries, and 
weighty political and historical changes of the century, 
covering so wide a field, and in such whelming variety over 
the civilized world, are impossible to be narrated in a Poem. 
But what can be absorbed and realized by one Personality 
in the midst of our age, fully aware of its important events 
and fully accepting them, and radiating the spirit of them, 
Walt Whitman, to all intents and purposes, has put in this 

That part of it definitely put in words in the piecc_^// 
/ / Truth is perhsps the hardest puzzle, and will longest con 
tinue to excite repugnance. For it is not mere optimism 
that underlies the mind of the author. His conclusion, 
after examining the contradictions of the universe, as indi 
cated by the avowal 

" All is truth without exception, 

And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am, 
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing" 

defies criticism as indeed much of the .work does and 


opens unplcasing possibilities. Considered in this respect, 
the book, like the world itself, is a contradictory mixture,! 
complication a magazine, or arsenal, whence not the good 
only will get weapons, but doubtless the bad also. i.t_Ji 
every way likely that many of the passages of it will be 
perverted, misconstrued to evil, and will perhaps be made 
the text for avowed impurity. 


With respect to Children of Adam, and the occasional 
vein of thought and allusion throughout the whole book on 
which so much stress has been laid in addition to what 
has been said in preceding pages 27, 28 and 29 -I copy 
from " A Woman s Estimate of Walt ll bitnan" written in 
England, in letters to W. M. Rossetti, (see page 5 :) 


I shall quite fearlessly accept your kind otter of the loan of a 

complete edition, certain that great and divinely beautiful nature hui not, 
could not infuse any poison into the wine he has poured out for us. And 
as for what you specially allude to, who so well able to bear it I wilt 
ay, to judge wisely of it as one who, having been a happy wife and 
mother, has learn-d to accept all things with tenderness, to feel a sacred- 
ness in all ? Perhaps Walt Whitman has forgotten or, through some 
theory in his head, has overridden the truth that our instincts are beau 
tiful facts of nature, as well as our bodies , and that we have a strong in 
stinct of silence about some things. 

You argued rightly that my confidence would not be betrayed 

by any of the poems in this book. None of them troubled me even for 
a moment; because I saw at a glance that it was not, as men had sup 
posed, the heights brought down to the depth*, but the depths lifted up 
level with the sunlit heights, that they might become clear and sunlit too. 
Always, for a woman, a veil woven out or her own soul never touched 
upon even, with a rough hand, by this poet. But, for a man, a daring, 
fearless pride in himself, not * mock-modesty woven out of delusions 
a very poor imitation of a woman s. Do they not see that this fearless 
pride, this complete acceptance of themselves, is needful for her pride, 
her justification ? What ! is it all so ignoble, so base, that it will not bear 
the honest light of speech from lips so gifted with " the divine power to 
use words ?" Then what hateful, bitter humiliation for her, to have to 
give herself up to the reality ! Do you think there is ever a bride who 


docs not taste more or less this bitterness in her cup ? But who put it 
there > It must surely be man * fault, not God s, that she has to say to 
herself", * Soul, look another way you have no part in this. Mother 
hood is beautiful, fatherhood is beautiful ; but the dawn of fatherhood 
and motherhood is not beautiful." Do they really think that God is 
ashamed of what he has made and appointed ? And, if not, surely it is 
somewhat superfluous that they should undertake to be so for him. 

" The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul," 

Of a woman above all. It is true that instinct of silence I spoke of is a 
beautiful, imperishable part of nature too. Dut it is not beautiful when 
it means an ignominious shame brooding darkly. Shame is like a very 
flexible \cil, that follows faithfully the shape of what it covers, beauti 
ful when it hides a beautiful thing, ugly when it hides an ugly one. It 
has not covered what was beautiful here j it has covered a mean distrust 
of a man s iclf and of his Creator. It was needed that this silence, this 
evil (pell, should for once Lc broken, and the daylight let in, that the 
dark cloud l)ing under might be scattered to the winds. It was needed 
that one who could here indicate for us " the path between reality and 
the soul " should speak. That is what these beautiful, despised poems, 
the Children of Adam do, read by the light that glows out of the rest of 
the volume : ight of a clear, strong faith in God, of an unfathomably 
deep and tender love for humanity, light shed out of a soul that is " pos 
sessed of itself." 

* Natural life of me faithfully praising things, 
Corroborating for ever the triumph of things." 

Now silence may brood again \ but lovingly, happily, as protecting what 
is beautiful, not as hiding what is unbeautiful; consciously enfolding a 
sweet and sacred mystery august even as the mystery of Death, the 
dawn as the setting ; kindred grandeurs, which to eyes that are opened 
shed a (.allowing beauty on all that surrounds and preludes them. 

" O vase and \vcll-vciled Death ! 

" O the beautiful touch of Death, soothing and benumbing a few mo 
ments, for reasons !" 

He who can thus look with fearlessness at the beauty of Death may 
well dare to teach us to look with fearless, untroubled eyes at the perfect 
beauty of Love in all its appointed realizations. Now none need turn 
away their thoughts with pain or shame} though only lovers and poets 
may say what they will, the lover to his own, the poet to all, bccaus- 
all are in a sense his own. None need fear that this will be harmful to 
the woman. How should there be such a flaw in the scheme of creation 
that, for the two with whom there is no complete life, save in closest 


sympathy, perfect union, what u natural and happy for the one should be 
baneful to the other? The utmost faithful freedom of speech, such at 
there is in these poems, creates in her no thought or feeling that shuns 
the light of heaven, none that are not as innocent and serenely fair as the 
flowers that grow; would lead, not to harm, but to such deep and tender 
affection as makes harm or the thought of harm simply impo sible. 

This i> so, though it is little understood or realized by men. Wives 
and mothers will learn through this poet that there is rejoicing grandeur 
and* beauty there wherein their hearts have so longed to rind it ; where 
foolish men, traitors to themselves, poorly comprehending the grandeur of 
their own or the beauty of a woman s nature, have taken such paini to 
make her believe there was none, nothing but miserable discrepancy. 



I Detractors and the coldly correct have charged and the 
| charge will probably continue that this poet is wild, irreg 
ular, and sometimes raves. Jn certain moods, I admit, he 
abandons all conventional and merely literary tics and in 
deed all ties except those of the ecstasy of the moment ; 
but the sentences then uttered have deepest meaning, and 
are never lost to his firm control. " Whatever man," says 
Plato, " altogether untouched with the Muse s frenzy, at 
tempts to enter the palace of Poesy and achieve works 
therein, neither that man nor his works will ever attain 
perfection ; but they are destined, for all their cold pro 
priety, to be eclipsed by the utterances of some inspired 

But Walt Whitman is no madman ; rather, the sanest of 
any. Aft-r all, he but continues the divine and eternal 
dynasty of poets, and in the direct line. The old power, 
virtue, expansion, grafted on modernness, are what he stands 
for. Aristotle said the real intention of Homer s verse was 
doubtless to construct strong and hardy models for the state, 
for purposes of war. In LEAVES OP GRASS, as in DEMOCRATIC 
VISTAS, and their author himself, I find the universal basis of 
flesh and blood, chemical, with iron and lime, the same 
elements as everywhere, yet advanced by many stages, en 
tirely modern, with reference to peace and not war, with a 


moral, religious, interior Democracy, stronger, more gener 
ous than ever, for service for individual character in the 
New World. 

For to finish the criticism, it is as an expression and 
faithful reflex, under such modern- and democratic condi 
tions, of a single complete Human Being that beginning 
and end of everything, an embodied Soul that LEAVES OF 
GRASS touches each reader, and comes home to him or her 
most closely. Hitherto, the great poets as Homer, JEs- 
chylus, Shakespeare borne on the wings of their genius, 
(see extract from St.-Bcuve, page 8,) have narrated, sung 
incidents, woven the passions, with complicated plots of 
war, love, epics, tragedies, and the like. But in Walt Whit 
man s pages it is, in short, only himself, a Man, and type 
of a New Race of men, that the author gives us. This is 
tfic spinal marrow of the various poems, and, whatever the 
difference of theme, makes them essentially one. And from 
this, the statement of the personality of the man himself, in 
my mind, becomes of first importance. 

In such personality by which I mean also his life, 
character, attitude toward and amid his times, his country, 
and the events thereof his behavior, faults, as we ll as 
merits I find lessons fully as significant, in their way, as 
those afforded by his writings. I say fault* ; for upon due 
analysis, we discover every case of marked and resplendent 
individualism to be a composition, a paradox. Can there 
be strong lights without shades mountain peaks without 
intervening chasms ? Walt Whitman himself has warned 
me that my essay was seriously deficient in not containing 
this distinct admission applied to him. " My friends," he 
said, " arc blind to the real devils that are in me. My 
enemies discover fancy ones. I perceive in clear moments 
that my work is not the accomplishment of perfections, 
but destined, I hope, always to arouse an unquenchable feel 
ing and ardor for them. It is out of struggle and turmoil 
I have written." 

To the objection, since the appearance of the first edition 


of these Notes, against my giving space in them to a per 
sonal portraiture and biography of the poet in his own life 
time, I therefore oppose an emphatic feeling, the result of 
much deliberation and the experience of several years, that 
in the preceding pages I have not said too much on thnse 
particulars, but far too little. It is mostly as a physical be 
ing, a practical citizen, and his combination of qualities es 
such in the Nineteenth Century and in the United States, 
that I find him, to use Carlylc s phrase, " A man furnished 
for the highest of all enterprises that of being the poet of 
his age." And if that age, or if future ages, will not under 
stand LEAVES OF GRASS, or will understand them with diffi 
culty, my conviction is that it is mainly because there exists 
no true and complete, but either an entirely defective or 
incredibly false and vicious conception, or want of con 
ception, in society, of the author personally. Indeed, 1 
doubt whether Walt Whitman s writings can be realized, 
except through first knowing or getting a true notion of the 
corporeal man and his manners, and coming in rapport with 
them. His form, physiognomy, gait, vocalization the 
very touch of him, and the glance of his eyes upon you 
sH- have closely to do with the subtlest meaning of his 
verse. His manners exemplify his book. Even a knowl 
edge of his ancestry, with the theory he entertains, and 
which is justified by his own case, of what he calls " the 
best motherhood," would light up many portions of his 

[The ancestry of Walt Whitman, on both the paternal 
and maternal sides, shows him to have come of good stock, 
in a sense which correspond* with the theory of his book, 
and his own character. They appear, a* I trace them back 
through four or five generation*, (sec paj^cs 77, 8, 9, pre 
ceding,) to have heen ft jffi* iewly provided with the world s 
gear ; p,avc their children *n equation above the average, 
kept a j ,ood tabl*, au*fa w l the hospitalities, decorums, and 
an excellent social reputation irt the county, yet were often 
of marked individuality, If *p4< c permitted, I should con- 


sidcr some of the men worthy special description ; and 
still more some of the women. His great-grandmother on 
the paternal side, for instance, was a large swarthy woman, 
who lived. to a very old age. She smoked tobacco, rode on 
horseback like a man, managed the most vicious horse, and, 
becoming a widow in later life, went forth every day over 
her (arm-lands, frequently in tfr saddle, directing the labor 
of her slaves, with language in which, on exciting occasions, 
oaths were not spared. The two immediate grandmothers 
of the poet were, in the best sense, superior women. The 
maternal one was a Friend, or Quakeress, of sweet, sensible 
character, housewifely proclivities, and deeply intuitive and 
spiritual. The other, (Hannah Brush, before marriage,) 
was an equally noble, but stronger character, lived to be 
very old, had quite a family of sons, was a natural lady, 
was in early life a school-mistress, and had great solidity of 
mind. The poet himself makes much of the women of 
his ancestry. He never speaks of his own mother but as 
41 dear mother," his face flush with yearning and pride.] 


The man, indeed, personally a.* much as in his book, 
foreruns the future. Tr cd by the conventional standards of 
the London or Boston of to-day, as his words are a stum 
bling-block, he himself is an offence. He is top free, too 
original, too acceptive of evil as well as good, of the flesh 
as well as the mind, and too scornfully ignores their whole 
category of priggish godlings and kinks. His full-blooded- 
ness and enormous sense of objective nature would doubtless 
overwhelm and crush him, were they not resisted and coun 
terbalanced by his equally enormous egoism, his subjective 
and soul quality both together radiating constantly from 
his presence, in room, car, or street. This is what renders 
him at times stronger than they can stand, to the routine, 
sophisticated classes ; while the same makes him take like a 
charm with illiterate people, farmers, workingmcn, sailors, 
and also healthy women, the very young and old, and with 
high-born foreigners a case where extremes meet. The 

sight of him walking the sidewalk his accustomed slow, 
yet alert and cheery gait, in New York, Brooklyn, New 
Orleans, or Washington, ought to he the best preparation 
for the reading of his LEAVES, or VISTAS, and effectually dis 
arm, in advance, the objections that have been got up 
against him. 

[An eye-witness and participator related, in a letter from 
Washington, to a friend, the following anecdote of Abra 
ham Lincoln, (alluded to on pa^re 85 :) 

" It was in the winter-time, I think in 64, I went up to 
the White Hou*e with a friend of mine, an M. C., who 
had some business with the President. He had gone out, 
so we didn t stop ; but coming down stairs, quite near the 
door, we met the President coming in, and we stept back 
into the East Room, and stood near the front windows, 
where my friend had a confab with him. It didn t last 
more than three or four minutes ; but there was something 
about a letter which my friend had handed the President, 
and Mr. Lincoln had read it, and was holding it in his hand 
like one thinking it over, and looking out of the window, 
when Walt Whitman went by, on che walk in front, quite 
slow, with his hands in the breast-pockets of his overcoat, 
and a sizeable felt hat on, and his head pretty well up, just 
as I have often seen him on Broadway. Mr. Lincoln asked 
who that was, or something of the kind. I spoke up, 
mentioning the name, Walt Whitman, and said he was the 
author of LEAVES OF GRASS, etc. Mr. Lincoln didn t 
say anything, but took a good look, till Whitman was quite 
gone by. Then he says ( I can t give you his way of saying 
lit, but it was quite emphatic and odd) Well, he says, 
\ be looks like a MAN. He said it pretty loud, but in a 
sort of absent way, and with the emphasis on the words I 
have underscored. He didn t say any more, but begun to 
talk again about the letter ; and in a minute or so we went 


A more definite statement of the contradictory position 

of this writer, at the present time, ,ccms demanded before 
I close. By special and limited circles, literary, social, and 
political, and by individuals women as well an men, here 
and there in the United States and in England, Walt 
Whitman, it cannot be denied, i read and rated, to-day, 
n->t only as one of the highest data of poets and philoso 
phers, but as f r modern purpose s perhaps the highest of 
all poets and philosophers, Nevertheless, the bulk of the 
public do not accept him, and a majority of " critics* and 
editors superciliously deny him. The manuscript of Passage 
to InJiii was refused by the monthly maga/ines successively 
in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London. At 
large, a vague but current notion pervades thai he is an ob 
scene writer. By many persons, including literary people, 
he is reckoned a mere oddity, or perhaps an affectation, or 
suspiciously coarse and low. Up to this hour, the pub 
lishers will not publish him, nor " the trade," in general, 
veil him over their counters. 

The future will hardly reali/c the calumnies and the 
utter malignancc and obstinacy directed against him, in hii 
lifetime, from certain quarters. As clerk in Washington, 
one Head of Department summarily turns him out, (1865,) 
>aying, when remonstrated with by the gentleman men 
tioned on page 94, " If the President himself directed me 
to put the author of LEAVES OP GRASS back in his place, I 
would resign sooner than do it j" and afterward, (1869,) 
he is subjected, in another Department, to trains of dastardly 
oificial insolence by a dignitary of equal rank, from whom 
he narrowly escapes the same fate. 

It seems to me, among the chiefcst points of the man, 
that through all these years of general misunderstanding, 
mixed with positive and negative insult, he steadily and 
good-naturedly keeps on, works at his Book, and finishes 
it, without being depressed or discomfited. [ Possessing 
singular personal magnetism, and frequently beloved at 
sight/ says a notice of him lately in a journal, " yet Walt 
Whitman s nonchalance, and a certain silent defiance, both 


in his poetry and appearance, have long laid him open to 
caricature and sarcastic criticism. Then there have been 
imputations of a virulent description, such as ignorance, 
drunkenness, and lust, to which mental aberration and 
moral obliquity have been strenuously added. Very little, 
hov/cvcr, do these charges trouble the subject of them. 
* In early yjars, said Mr. Whitman, lately in conversation. 
4 I murmured much at the fate of being misrepresented and 
misunderstood at the lies of enemies, and still more the 
complacent fatuity of those I loved. But I sec now that i: 
is no detriment to a hardy character, but is perhaps the 
inevitable price of freedom and a vigorous training and 
growth ; and that even slanders mean something to every 
real student of himself, and, as it were, betray to the com 
mander of the fort where his embankments arc opencst to 
the enemy, and most need strengthening and the guard. * j 


Not unaware that my course in this sketch is perhaps ex 
ceptional, I am determined to convey sufficient clues, in the 
spirit of the author himself, to the homeliest relations or 
sources of LEAVES OP GRASS as primarily the outgrowth of 
a corporeal, eating and drinking man, and even his domes- 
tic habits, and personal form and physiognomy. 


From tbe Rocbetter Gaxttte t N. T. t March 7, 1868. 

I present Walt Whitman, then, as a man now well in hit 

forty-ninth year, tall and strongly built, with a profuse gray beard, which 
at .1m sight gives him an older appearance ; of slow movement and erect 
figure j of manners always simple, full of cheer and courtesy, a moderate 
talker, and, contrary to the general opinion, altogether free from eccen 
tricity. The portraits ard photographs in existence fail in giving the 
real life expression. His serene gray eyes, and the copiousness of hair, 
moustache, eyebrows and beard, affording ample !lvery fringe to his face 
of faint scarlet, make up a large part of its individuality. I have heard 


physiognomists say that no face could contain more alertness, combined 
with mure calmness; and he has occasionally, in repose, a look I once 
heard in a description of him, as a man " wandering out of himself, and 
roaming silently over the whola earth. 1 

From the ffatliington Sunday Chronicle^ May 9, 1869. 

On Pennsylvania avenue or Seventh or Fourteenth street, or 

perhaps, of a Sunday, along the surburban roads toward Rock creek, or 
across on Arlington Heights, or up the shores of the Potomac, you will 
meet moving alung at a firm but moderate pace, a robust figure, six feet 
high, costumed in blue or gray, with drab hat, broad shirt collar, gray 
white beard, full and curly, race like a red apple, blue eyes, and a look 
of animal heakh more indicative of hunting or boating than the depart 
ment otiice or author * desk. Indeed, the subject of our item, in his verse, 
his mannets, and even in his philosophy, evidently draws from, and has 
reference tu, the influences of sea and sky, and woods and prairies, with 
their laws, and auan in his relations to them ; while neither the conven 
tional parlor nor library has cast its spells upon him. 

Letter from ff^aihirgtcn^ November 28, 1870. 

You ask for some particulars of my friend Whitman. You 

know 1 rirst fell in with him years ago in the army; we then lived 
awhile in the same lent, and now I occupy the adjoining room to his. 
1 can, therefore, gratify your curiosity. He is a large loooking man. 
While in the market the other day with a party of us, we were all 
weighed; h u weight was 100 pounds. But 1 will just start with him 
like with the day. He is fond of the sun, an.l at this season, soon as it 
is well up, shining in his room, he is out in its beams for a cold-water 
bath, with hand and tponge, after a brisk use of the flesh-bruch. Then 
blithely singing his singing often pleasantly wakes me he proceeds to 
rinivh his toilet, about which he is quite particular. Then forth for a 
walk in the open air, or perhaps some short exercise in the gymnasium. 
Then to breakfast no sipping and nibbling he demolishes meat, eggs, 
rolls, toast, roast potatoes, coffee, buckwheat cakes, at a terrible rate. 
Then walking moderately to his desk in the Attorney General s oflice a 
pleasant desk, with large, south window at his left, looking away down 
the Potomac, and across to Virginia on one side. 

He is at present in first-rate bodily health. Of his mind you must 
judge from his writings, as I have sent them to you. He is not what is 
called ceremonious or polite, but I have noticed invariably kind and tol 
erant with children, servants, laborers, and the illiterate. He gives freely 
to the poor, according to his means. He can be freezing in manner, and 
knows how to fend ott bores, though really the most affectionate of men. 
For instance, I saw him, was with him, the other day, meeting at the 
railroad depot, after long separation, a family group, to all the members 


of whom he was attached through the tendereit former associations, and 
tome he had known from childhood, Interchanging grew hearty kuset 
with each, the boyt and men aa well at the girU and women. 

Sometimes he and I only sometimes a larger party of ut go otf on 
ramblei of several miles out in the country, or over the hilU ; lometimen 
we go nightt, when the moon U fine. On such occasions he contribute* 
his part to t) - general fun. You might hear hit voice, half in iport, de 
claiming tome passage from a poem or playi *nd hit song or laugh about 
a often a* any, sounding in the open air. 

H* Itner 9 AT. 7*. Ev**i*g MJ//, Ottobtr 17, 1870. 

........ .The paper* here have all paragraphed Walt Whitman s return 

to town and to hit de.k in the Attorney General * otHce, after quite a 
Jong vacation. Hit figure U daily to be teen here moving around in the 
open air, especially fine murnitigi and evening*, observing, listening to, 
or tociably talking with all torts of* people, policemen, driven, market* 
men, old women, the blackt, or dignitaries \ or, perhaps, giving tome small 
almt to beggars, the m-iimnl, or organ-grinder* { or i opping to carets lit* 
tie children, of whom he i* very fond. He takes drep interne in all thr 
newt, foreign and domestic. At the comtnerv rmcnt of the present war 
in Europe he was ttrongly German, but is now the ardent friend of the 
French, and enthusiastically supports them and their Republic. Here at 
home he goet for general amnesty and oblivion to seceuionistt \ he speaks 
tharply of the tendency of* the Republican party to concentrate all power 
(at he tayt) in Congress, and make its legislation absolutely sovereign, a 
against the equal claimt, in their sphere*, of the Presidency, the Judiciary,- 
and the tingle States. 

Altogether, peril tpi, "the gomi, gray poet" it rightly located here. 
Our wide spaces, great edifices, the breadth of our landscape, the ample 
vistas, the splendor of our skies, night and il.iv, with the national charac 
ter, the memories of Washington and Lincoln, and others that might be 
named, make our city, above all others, the one where he fitly belongs. 

Walt Whitman is now in hi* fifty-second year, hearty and blaming, 
tall, with white beard and long hair. The older he gets the more cheer 
ful and, gay- hearted he growt. 



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